REVIEW: American Ballet Theatre's “THE NUTCRACKER” — Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

A Fantasy of a Young Girl Yearning for Womanhood

The moment a mouse peeked out of a stewpot in the kitchen of the Stahlbaum’s kitchen, I knew that American Ballet Theatre's version of “The Nutcracker” would keep me engaged all evening.

American Ballet Theatre presented their first production in 1976 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov (“White Knights;” “Baryshnikov on Broadway”), one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century.

But the world premiere of “The Nutcracker” was long before that — given by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story called, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." Although that original production was not a total success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was, propelling "The Nutcracker" into enormous popularity (especially since the late 1960s), and now performed all over the world by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season.

In Alexei Ratmansky’s new version of "The Nutcracker," currently being performed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from December 10th through 19th, American Ballet Theatre presents a superb production like no other, and is considered Southern California’s grandest production of the holiday season. Bringing a sparkling, snow-filled dreamlike journey with larger-than-life scenery, colorful costumes, magical toy soldiers, mischievous mice, and matchless dancing, it is guaranteed that you’ll either be dreaming of sugar plums later, or finding a high chair to climb on.

Co-Presented by the Center and ABT in now their sixth year of production, “The Nutcracker” features an international all-star cast with more than 100 performers and stellar performances from some of the world’s leading dancers. In September, ABT’s Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie announced the much anticipated principal casting for this season’s opening night (this past Friday, Dec. 10th), which included Hee Seo as Clara the Princess, and Cory Stearns as The Nutcracker Prince — both exquisite coryphées.

The story is familiar by now. The ballet is set on Christmas Eve, where the Stahlbaum kitchen is alive with activity as cooks and housekeepers bustle about preparing for the family’s annual holiday party. A nanny keeps a watchful eye on the children, Clara and Fritz. Once the tree and other preparations are done, everyone adjourns to the parlor to greet the guests. Clara turns back and is startled to see a tiny, defiant mouse ensconced under the table. Suddenly more mischievous mice appear and scurry about the kitchen looking for scraps of food.

The party swings into action, with swirling masses of kids and gifts and tipsy adults. Toys are given out to the children. Then, suddenly, as the owl-topped grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician, and Clara's godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him more gifts for the children, including lifelike dolls who danc