New magic was breathed into Pennsylvania Ballet's
at the Academy of Music on Friday night, as the company unveiled gorgeous new costumes and sets to go with George Balanchine's choreography.
Peter Horne's scenery offers unusual continuity, setting the entire performance within the framework of Marie's home, a Philadelphia redbrick Federal-style mansion called Nutcracker House. Its living room has large windows, with a display case full of wooden soldiers to one side and the Christmas tree on the other.
In Marie's dream, the tree and the house grow, and the windows become a Longwood Gardens-type conservatory, snowy trees visible through the glass. The toy soldiers grow to life-size to battle the mice, which costume designer Judanna Lynn has made more funny than scary, in conquistador-inspired helmets topped with wedges of Swiss, and long ties embellished with more cheese.
Once the Nutcracker bests the mouse king, the conservatory opens up, the trees beyond becoming a Fairmount Park-inspired grove. This is the most breathtakingly beautiful scene, with icy blue sets, dancers in feathery snowflake tutus, snow falling from the rafters, and live vocals by the Philadelphia Boys Choir.
In most productions, the second-act Land of Sweets has little to do with the first act. But Horne chose to keep this within the frame of Nutcracker House as well.
As for the costumes, the candy land usually offers the most variety, but Lynn did a good job giving each guest a distinct look in the first-act party scene as well. The most gorgeous dress is reserved for Marie's mother, rich red velvet with gold trim. The flower tutus are the best-executed costumes, blooming each time the dancers leap. Other notables include the pink-and-gold angel dresses, and the harlequin-doll, tea and hot chocolate costumes.
The cast's children all danced well, led by Alessandra Mullin as Marie and Austin Butler as the prince. Tiny Evan Misinkavitch as Marie's brother, Fritz, was especially adorable. Amy Aldridge was regal and lovely as Sugar Plum and James Ady offered a strong solo as her cavalier, though they danced far better alone than together. Martha Chamberlain was an especially sprightly Dewdrop. And lead candy cane Jermel Johnson, who tripped over his striped hoop, is such an explosive jumper that he was still a clear crowd favorite.