REVEW: American Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” – Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

“This Nutcracker is cracking good!” raved the New York Post when American Ballet Theatre premiered this delectable holiday favorite. It is Christmas Eve.

As the lights dim and Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score fills the air, young Clara enters a dreamlike fevered delirium that transports her to a land where she sees sparkling Christmas Forests amid magical toy soldiers, mischievous mice, a life-size nutcracker, dancing snowflakes and a glittering, growing Christmas tree!

The nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince and he leads Clara through the moonlit night to the beautiful Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

With an impressive cast of more than 100 performers, ABT’s The Nutcracker features set and costumes by Richard Hudson (Tony Award winner, The Lion King), with choreography by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky. The Orange County Register praised it as a “… colorful, cinematic creation filled with spectacle, humor and eye-popping costumes.” Other critics call it "astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration" and "from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic."

The Nutcracker is one of the composer's most popular compositions and much shorter than either "Swan Lake" or "The Sleeping Beauty." The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season. The "Trepak," or "Russian dance," is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the "Waltz of the Flowers," "March," and of course, the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." The composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th-century music, such as by Mozart and Haydn can be detected in passages in the Overture, the "Entrée des parents," and "Grossvater Tanz."

The world premiere of The Nutcracker was given by the Imperial Ballet, Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18, 1892, and danced by Antoinetta Dell’Era (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Pavel Gerdt (Cavalier). American Ballet Theatre’s first production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, received its World Premiere at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on December 21, 1976. The production received its New York Premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 18, 1977.

ABT’s second production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Kevin McKenzie, received its World Premiere at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California on December 3, 1993. A new staging of McKenzie’s production was given its World Premiere at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 12, 2000. This present production, with choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, received its World Premiere at the Howard Gilman Opera House at Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York on December 23, 2010 danced by Gillian Murphy (Clara, The Princess), David Hallberg (Nutcracker, The Prince), Catherine Hurlin (Clara), and Tyler Maloney (The Nutcracker Boy).