By Ryan Noel
Boston University News Service
Boston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” ballet, a staple of the city’s holiday season since 1958, returned to the Citizens Bank Opera House for 2021, and while theatre-goers can expect to see the traditional costumes and choreography, this year’s rendition has a few minor changes.
Child performers under age 12 will not be a part of this year’s performance, as, in order to rehearse in the studio, all dancers needed to be fully vaccinated, which a lot of younger students were not in the months leading up to December. Instead, the ballet company is substituting them with teenage dancers in said roles.
Despite this change, the dance numbers will remain the same, according to 22-year-old Boston Ballet II dancer, Gabriel Lorena.
“The company dancers have been here for many years and know the choreography,” said Lorena. “They don’t start preparing for ‘The Nutcracker’ until mid-November.”
Set in the 1820s in a small German town on Christmas Eve, “The Nutcracker” is made up of two acts, following a young girl named Clara as she is gifted a nutcracker by her uncle. In a fantastical sequence, both she and the nutcracker go on a journey fighting mice, visiting the circus and traveling through a snowflake forest.
Lorena said his favorite scene to perform is the battle scene, for which he is dressed up as a mouse.
“We have headpieces on, so you can’t really see anything other than the lights on you,” said Lorena. “Sometimes we’ll hit each other in the head, but it is very fun,”
Lorena joined the Boston Ballet in March of 2020. Originally from Brazil, he started his dancing career at 10 years old at his local church. His dancing journey in the U.S. started at the Miami City Ballet School, where he trained as a student. Lorena received his first ballet contract from the Sarasota Ballet Company in 2019.
Before landing with Boston Ballet, in response to the pandemic, the company was unable to hold in-person performances and workshops in 2020. However, they were able to use Zoom. Lorena sent the company his website, which displays his choreography work, in hopes to be able to choreograph for the company. He still wanted to be a part of the routines even though he could not physically be in attendance.
“In June or July of 2020 was my first opportunity, they let me choreograph via Zoom,” said Lorena. He added that he choreographed a total of four virtual pieces for the company.
Lorena also talked about how much he valued the work of the artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, who helms the production “based on the libretto by Alexandre Dumas père, titled ‘The Tale of the Nutcracker'” from the 19th century, according to the company’s website. “The Nutcracker” ballet itself came to be in 1892, first adapted with compositions by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
“He’s always going with the companies, always changing and adjusting to the world, which really is not like some other companies out there, they’re just stuck to the old classical, you know, dusty thinking, it’s very old fashioned,” he said. “I appreciate when directors and choreographers and ballet teachers understand that every year you’re going to get a different group of dancers that are thinking differently.”
For example, Nissinen and Robert Perdziola, who designed the costumes and scenery, reworked “The Nutcracker’s” “Chinese Tea” dance, a sequence that, in the past, has been the subject of criticism for its stereotyping of Asian culture (i.e. bamboo hats). A write-up from the New York Times quoted Nissinen as seeking to ditch materials that could be seen as degrading to Chinese culture.
With ribbon-dancing working its way into the routine according to the piece, audiences can expect riveting performances and other staples, such as the “Nutcracker Bear,” which has delighted kids in the audience when it starts to dance.
“The kids love the teddy bear,” said Lorena. “Every time the teddy bear breaks open the box, you can hear the kids gasp and laugh from behind the stage.”
The Boston Ballet’s performances of The Nutcracker will go on until Dec. 26.