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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