Boston Ballet's stunning re-visioned Nutcracker is the best $2 million–plus investment this company has ever made. Director Mikko Nissinen explains that for its first new Nutcracker in 17 years, he consulted an 1844 Alexandre Dumas, père, libretto based on the 1816 E.T.A. Hoffmann story. Robert Perdziola's new Regency-era decor, thoughtfully lit by Les Dickert, carries a literary undercurrent. We meet the svelte and classy Drosselmeier (Sabi Varga) in a magic store out of Hugo and glimpse the Snow Queen and King (Kathleen Breen Combes and Paulo Arrais) in a breathtaking, winter birch-forest scene fit for Anna Karenina. Alcoves nest within rooms like ribboned gift boxes. By act two, extra stage chandeliers hung in the Opera House extend the Nutcracker Prince's kingdom into the audience. Perdziola and Nissenen have created a glittering fable about the wonders of vision.

>> PHOTOS: "Boston Ballet's Nutcracker" by Eric Antoniou <<

As a young dancer, Nissinen trained at the Kirov in St. Petersberg, and he retains the classical Petipa/Ivanov choreography. Almost all of his changes from previous Boston Ballet productions are improvements. He's enriched the prologue with lucid mime exposition even the little ones will understand, anticipating the war between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker's cadre of toy soldiers. He does justice to Tchaikovsky's musical motifs, played with sustained beauty by the Boston Ballet pit orchestra under Jonathan McPhee, layering in fiendish changes of position for the mechanical ballerina (Seo Hye Han), windswept lifts for the Snow King and Queen, and a chrysanthemum-dense wheel of petals during the Waltz of the Flowers with Dew Drop (Lia Cirio) glittering at its center.

The world premiere's cast on November 23 demonstrated the technical depth in the company's current roster. Chelsea Perry's Clara is a golden child on the cusp of womanhood — a head taller than her friends, she gets toe shoes instead of baby dolls and has the gracious bearing of a debutante, and a smile that lights up her face. Isaac Akiba tore down the house with his Russian split jumps, and Misa Kuranaga offered a pristine, near-perfect Sugar Plum Fairy. (I do wish the variations were still called Coffee and Tea instead of Arabian and Chinese: 21st-century kids don't need silly ethnic stereotypes reinforced.)

Boston Ballet's Nutcracker, like every major production, fields multiple casts; and Nissinen's best holiday gift may be that with substantive, even challenging, dancing in each vignette, the dancers are less likely to get sick of it or phone in their performances by New Year's Eve.

Boston Ballet's Nutcracker is that rarest of treats: a sweet that nourishes.

BOSTON BALLET'S THE NUTCRACKER:: Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston :: Through December 30 :: $35-$177 :: 617.695.6955 or

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