One of the most shocking signs of how much Covid upended the performing arts was the cancellation of New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker season in 2020. The warhorse to end all warhorses had run every year since 1954. NYCB’s Nutcracker returned this year, with a few pandemic adjustments. Children were older – during the rehearsal period, the youngest children were not eligible for vaccinations, so all of this year’s cast are aged 12 and up. This affects the performance in ways big and small. The taller kids meant that all eight Polichinelles could no longer fit into the skirts of Mother Ginger. Instead, four girls emerge from her skirts while the four boys hide behind her.

The Party Scene in New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

But there are also subtle differences when the ballet is cast with older kids – their precociousness no longer seems as remarkable. For instance, the Bunny was traditionally given to the tiniest child. The Bunny would run up to the big, towering Mouse King and pull his tail. This action seems less cute and plucky when the dancer playing the Bunny is quite tall. On the plus side, the connection between Marie and Drosselmeier’s Nephew/Prince seems stronger with older kids. They look old enough to have their first crushes, and their magical handshake in the Act 1 party scene held more emotional weight.

Waltz of the Snowflakes in New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

These adjustments were small sacrifices compared to the overall joy of this production. George Balanchine’s choreography is so timeless and so full of joy and beauty. Every time I see it there are many moments where I’m bowled over by Balanchine’s invention. The performance I attended was well-cast from top to bottom. The children were wonderful. Athena Shevorykin was a sensitive, sweet Marie. Lucas Contreras (Fritz) wasn’t quite as devilish as I’ve seen in this role, but he was cute. Reed Ouimet as the Prince displayed a beautiful tendu, considerate manners, and animated mime. Can’t ask for more. 

The leads were Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Woodward was finally promoted to principal this past fall. She is the most charming of Sugarplum Fairies, exuding warmth and playfulness. Her quick passes in the celesta variation seemed to twinkle. The grand pas with Huxley was beautiful – Woodward has grown in maturity in the role. She now dances the grand pas with more authority. The arms have more flourish, the backbends are lusher. As for Huxley, he is simply NYCB’s finest classicist. His pirouettes à la seconde were remarkable for their speed, form and airtight fifth position. He partnered Woodward beautifully. The supported pirouettes to backbend promenade were timed perfectly with the crescendo of the music.

Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley in NYCB’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

Megan Fairchild was a remarkable masterclass in technique as the Dewdrop. She is a veteran dancer who has been with the company for nearly 20 years, yet she can still dispatch the Dewdrop’s allegro footwork without any hiccups. The one thing she lacked was grandeur and personality; she’s always been a dancer who presents the steps without commentating on them. 

The divertissements were all well-danced. Emily Kikta’s sultry, leggy Coffee is always a pleasure to watch. She unfurls her long limbs so languorously that time seems to stop. Roman Mejia was explosive as Candy Cane. Emma Von Enck handled the tricky pirouettes and gargouillades of the Marzipan variation with ease and charm. Harrison Coll reprised his well-loved Drosselmeier. After some roughness in the fall season, the corps seemed back on form – the formations in the Snow and Flowers waltzes were neat and precise.

Roman Mejia in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

The moment in Balanchine’s Nutcracker that always provides an emotional jolt is when the Nutcracker Prince tears off his costume and comes to the lip of the stage and bows to the audience. He seems to be saying, “Let the classical dancing begin.” I’ve seen this so many times and yet when Reed Ouimet bowed to the audience, the magic was unabated. Welcome back, Nutcracker