Throughout the United States, the holidays is the season for the Nutcracker ballet. T+L spoke with Mikko Nissinen, the Finnish artistic director of the Boston Ballet and its new–and spectacular–production.
Q: Is this your first production of the Nutcracker in Boston?
A: No, when I came to Boston, I inherited an extravaganza that had contributions from seven choreographers! There is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. So I started to narrow down the production. I staged the first act, the second act, the Land of Sweets, was by another choreographer. For our new Nutcracker, I have staged the entire ballet, both acts.
Q: Why has Boston Ballet embarked on a new production? It is expensive, no?
A: The former production was literally falling apart and coming apart at the seams. This new production, with sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola, who has designed for opera and ballet, cost about $2.5 million and includes almost 200 costumes. It is an investment, but it should have a shelf life of 20 years. And the Christmas tree in the first act grows in a dazzling way as no other tree I have seen. Perdziola is an extraordinary talent.
Q: How many performers are involved?
A: Counting the company, our second company, and the students from our ballet school, there is a total of 144 performers.
Q: The production is traditional in look. Tell us about it.
A: Yes, it is reflective of the story by E.T. A. Hoffmann about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King with its 19th-century German setting. I am a strong believer in this classic aspect of the tale while being aware that the ballet has to live in our time. The Nutcracker has been successful for more than 120 years. This tale of magical transformation is broad enough to appeal to children and adults, from little kids to grandparents, and it has Tchaikovsky's glorious score.
Q: Contrast that experience to today.
A: Unlike the United States, the Nutcracker in Europe is not a holiday ballet. Here, however, the Nutcracker is for many the entry into the art form. Because of this, I feel that the experience with the ballet and through its production be fresh every night. It has to be engaging. And it has to be challenging for the dancers. In fact, I have made the choreography extremely difficult in technical terms because I want the dancers to challenge themselves. In such a way, the company becomes stronger, both as dancers and as artists, by the end of the Nutcracker season rather than beaten down by the pace of approximately 40 shows. It is very important the the Nutcracker fulfill the role of the art form and engage and delight its audience.
Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.