Review: Mateo’s ‘Nutcracker’ keeps you on your toes

Iris Fanger

Jose Mateo’s production of “The Nutcracker” turned into a family affair last weekend, but not just for Clara and her parents onstage. The children of the South Shore cast that will appear in Duxbury over Christmas weekend were giving their first performance of the season, with many of their parents helping backstage or in the house.

Betty Finken, playing Clara’s mother, was one of four cast leaders helping organize the other volunteers: Christine Lorimer took my ticket and Brenda Goodell led me to my seat.

These moms, all from Duxbury, not only drive their children to the theater but help to keep the show up and running.

Duxbury Middle School seventh-grader Nicole Finken made a most assured debut in the role of Clara, dancing en pointe, an unusually demanding assignment for a 12-year-old.

In the opening scene, where the Snowflakes appear under a revolving pole hung with filmy white banners under a starry sky, Clara runs onto the stage with the tiny steps called bourrees to find the box that holds her surprise gift. She then performs little jumps and pirouettes, ending her opening solo in a series of linked turns. She’s no less secure throughout the party scene, leading the miniature corps de ballet of party children, then on into the battle scene to be surrounded by the fearful troupe of adorable baby mice.

The opening vision serves as prophecy to the events that will unfold, under the mysterious guidance of Dr. Drosselmeyer, a family friend. Mateo himself takes the role of Drosselmeyer, a grown-up Harry Potter who oscillates between respectable behavior and a mysterious power that enables him to raise the glittering Christmas tree to the ceiling and transport Clara through a snowy forest to the Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Drosselmeyer also brings his special gift of a Nutcracker doll to life as an escort for Clara, perhaps her first boyfriend. The teenager, Alec Bolduc, made the Nutcracker Prince into an appealing heartthrob, with his brave attack on both ballet technique and the tail-swishing Rat King, Russell Hewey. Lotsie Cash and Kehlet Schou portrayed the automated Columbine and Harlequin as amusing and rebellious puppets.

Madeleine Bonn as the Sugar Plum Fairy was regal in her command of the second-act troupe of dancing dolls, dressed in costumes from various countries.

Cash and Schou changed costumes to become the dashing Russian dancers of Trepak. Both Bonn and Jacob Hoover as her Cavalier were elegant in the pas de deux, especially Hoover in his spread-eagle jumps around the circumference of the stage.

Clara makes only a brief appearance at the beginning and end of Act II and does not compete with Sugar Plum Fairy in the dancing. One might wish she and the Nutcracker Prince could stay onstage to watch the entertainments, to give more coherence to the story line.

Hingham’s Jaclyn Sanford, formerly a Clara but now age 19 and a full member of Mateo's professional company, appeared in multiple roles: as one of the Tea duo, as a Snowflake and a blossom in the Waltz of the Flowers.

To prove that allegiance to Mateo and his prowess in training the hearts and sinews of his ballet students never ends, Jaclyn Sanford’s parents, Eleanor and Bill , were on duty in the lobby as proprietors of the gift shop.

Another former Nutcracker parent, John Wilpers of Marshfield, continues in his role as the beloved Mother Ginger, on stilts and swinging the enormous skirts that hide a dozen little Polichinelles, the adorable youngest members of the “Nutcracker” troupe.

THE NUTCRACKER: Performed by the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. Through Dec. 20, Spingold Theatre at Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham, 781-736-3400; Dec. 24-27 at the Duxbury Performing Arts Center, 73 Alden St., Duxbury ($15-$50, 781-736-3400, www.ballettheatre.org).

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