Gregory Malek-Jones and Flora Wildes
photo: Paul Kolnik
Gregory Malek-Jones and Flora Wildes

And here you thought attendance at The Nutcracker was an annual ritual observed for the sake of the children. Well, George Balanchine's version offers plenty to divert grown-up escorts—the changes the ballet rings, for instance, on proportion. The opening party scene, a multigenerational Christmas Eve gathering, begins by revealing disparities in size and behavior. The children (the School of American Ballet's finest) appear exquisitely tiny; the characters they play, emotionally high-strung and occasionally unruly. The sedate elders who surround them serve as models of gracious decorum, as if civilization were achieved along with the attainment of full height. Then, in a transition from reality to dream (the realm of larger-than-life dimensions), the Christmas tree in the parlor grows to a vaulting height, and the toys, the wooden-soldier nutcracker first among them, follow suit. With this magical shift in scale, the little girl at the center of the story attains a heroine's status and gains admittance—if, clearly, for a limited visit—to that imaginary world in which nothing is impossible.

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