A holiday tradition for decades, it’s been two years since Philadelphia Ballet danced George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music. When it opened Friday night, it was as delightful as ever.
The costumes and giant Christmas tree seemed especially merry and bright, but it was hard to tell whether they had been refurbished or just a welcome sight after all that time away.
Some of the dancers also seemed to add extra flourishes, including Sydney Dolan, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who had believable reactions during the Prince’s pantomime story of battling the mice as well as stretching her movements out to her fingertips during her solos. Her pas de deux with Sterling Baca as the Cavalier, was strong and steady. Baca also impressed with his solo jumps and turns.
Mayara Piniero, as the Dewdrop Fairy, sparkled in that role, dancing alongside the Flowers. Occasionally during pirouettes, it looked like she’d go off balance but pulled herself back in position with little notice.
Jermel Johnson recently announced he would be retiring at the end of the season, but there are many more chances to see this especially dynamic dancer. On Friday night, he was the lead in Tea, a great role for him that shows off his enormous jumps.
Set designer Peter Horne in 2007 positioned the snow scene on the banks of the Schuylkill, looking up toward East Falls. This year’s Snowflakes were delightful as ever as dancers in ice-blue Judanna Lynn costumes (designed that same year) whirled around the stage as snow fell from the rafters. The red-coated Philadelphia Boys Choir normally sings during this scene, and they were sorely missed. The recorded voices that replaced the choir sounded canned and faster than the expected tempo.
The party scene took a little getting used to this time, with so much hugging, kissing, and lifting of children during times of social distancing. But the children were charming both in their dances and acting sections, including Ellie Sidlow as Marie, Emerson Lomba as her demanding little brother, Fritz, and Rowan Duffy as the Prince.
Other standouts included Siobhan Howley and Kathryn Manger as very springy Harlequin and Columbine dolls, Peter Weil as the Soldier doll who performs tricks, and Nayara Lopes as the lead Marzipan Shepherdess, who nimbly breezed through the many tricky hops on pointe.
Artistic director Angel Corella announced Lopes’ promotion to principal dancer on stage after her Saturday matinee performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. He announced Jack Thomas’ promotion to principal dancer on stage after his Saturday evening performance as the Cavalier.
The house opened 45 minutes before showtime for COVID-19 vaccine card and test checks. Even though the line was wrapped around the block before that, it went quickly.
I had been to several in-person performances since the spring, but this was the first one with a large and full house. Yet with all the checks and masks, even bundled in close with winter coats, it felt as safe as we can expect.
Philadelphia Ballet in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”
Through Dec. 31, Academy of Music
Information: 215-893-1999 or philadelphiaballet.org.