I have a friend who took her little boy to the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker once and swore never to go back. They both hated it—the party dresses and velvet jackets, the nonstop gracious living, the scrupulous attention to gender roles (dolls for the girls, leapfrog for the boys). Even the second act, where the real dancing kicks in, had no appeal. And why would it, if high decorum gives you the creeps? Classical ballet is just good behavior, after all—though it’s good behavior as the gods might practice it. For strictly downtown sensibilities, giant mice and dancing candy canes never will turn a cold winter night into Christmas.
But for anyone who loves believing that a well-ordered life, however prim, has the potential for transformation—that a child with a big heart might help slay a tyrant and be swept off to a banquet beyond imagining—the return of City Ballet’s Nutcracker each winter is the season’s most trustworthy emblem of comfort and joy. My own favorite moment comes in the second act, when the young Prince recounts in mime the story of the midnight battle between the mice and the toy soldiers. He’s “speaking” in a movement language as bright and clear today as it was when Balanchine learned it for a Nutcracker season nearly a century ago in St. Petersburg. In the boy’s swiftly sculpted gestures, we indeed see a splendid victory, but what we’re watching is the long-running victory of ballet itself over that pettiness and disarray known as being human.
Tyler Gurfein carried off the part with great distinction on opening night, and Flora Wildes made a charming and confident Marie. (She also proved a crack shot with her slipper, beaning the Mouse King right on the head). Ghaleb Kayali was endearingly bratty as Fritz, and the eight Polichinelles proved once more that children’s dancing can go way past cute if the choreography is good enough. Darci Kistler’s Sugarplum Fairy bestowed sweet fortune on her kingdom with every calm, handsome step, and Jennie Somogyi gleamed with power and pleasure as Dewdrop.