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Boston Ballet revamps ‘The Nutcracker’

Boston Ballet’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker, a 42-year holiday tradition, received its first makeover in 17 years.

Artistic director Mikko Nissinen called in designer Robert Perdziola to create entirely new sets and costumes — almost 350 — for the production. And although those are the most sweeping changes, the ballet, which premiered Friday at the Boston Opera House, also has revamped choreography and a few new characters.

The production’s overhaul seems fit. Boston Ballet’s Fall Program brought with it a revival of ballet, fewer frills and all. The Rolling Stones blared through the speakers during Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, and choreography melded jazz, popular dance, ballet and more than a little thrusting. Although this year’s The Nutcracker remains a traditional ballet, its revamped costumes and set designs give it a more grown-up, mature feel.

Set 20 years in the past from the previous production, set in 1835, the costumes are simpler and more elegant. Subtle colors used throughout the sets and costumes, especially in the opening party scene, allow for a more viewable and unmasked performance. The dancers say goodbye to hooped skirts and slip into more streamlined costumes more fit for a Wang Center stage than the smaller Boston Opera House. It’s a make-under done correctly, all while still being set to Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. But the once main character, Clara, is jolted into dreamland for the second half, the show’s traditional vibrancy returns.

“This reinvented production will remain the holiday classic that audiences know and love, but the experience will be enhanced exponentially,” Nissinen said in a Nov. 16 Boston Ballet press release.

Though the opening street scene feels dreary and hardly like Christmas, young Clara, as always, celebrates Christmas Eve with her family at a party and receives a nutcracker doll. She falls asleep and finds herself surrounded by mice — most notably, the Mouse King, in a beautifully constructed costume that looked like it might have weighed 100 pounds, yet allowed dancer Artjom Maksakov to move freely and weightlessly during Saturday’s matinee performance.

With Drosselmeyer by her side, Clara sets out on a night of adventure with the Nutcracker Prince, meeting first with the Sugar Plum Fairy and later with the cultural dancing pairs, trios and quartets. But even with the seemingly toned-down sets and costumes, Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker is as glamorous and magical as ever. The Snow Queen’s costume, full of crystals, glistened throughout the entire theater. At a closer glance, the backdrops are intricate and beyond well-made. There’s even a new character, the Bunny, who’s sure to provoke laughs for the years these sets and costumes have ahead of them.

Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker runs at the Boston Opera House through Sunday, Dec. 30.

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