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This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on November 27, 2006.

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) — The New York City Ballet has been performing George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” for over half a century. Balletomanes and tourists alike return to it year after year as a part of their holiday rituals. It serves the company as well as the audience, being at once an infallible money-maker and an occasion for dancers to test their mettle.

Unfurling its vision of civilized social behavior and the fear-tinged delight of a child’s dreams, “The Nutcracker” provides over a dozen featured roles, and all of them are multiply cast. Opening night on Nov. 24th featured senior ballerina Wendy Whelan, delicate and playful as the Sugar Plum Fairy who rules over the Land of the Sweets. In the pas de deux that climaxes the second act, she was gloriously partnered by another veteran, Nikolaj Hubbe.

Other standouts were Sofiane Sylve, as the Dewdrop who adds sparkle and flash to the pink prettiness of the Waltz of the Flowers, and Teresa Reichlen as the soloist representing Coffee. Reichlen is duly sinuous and sultry as the bare-legged, bare- midriffed harem girl. But she adds an element of pathos, even despair, to the familiar interpretation, making the exotic stock character deeply human.

Chance to Shine

As usual, in the course of the five-week run, the ballet will also become a try-out zone for promising dancers who are plucked out of the corps and given a chance to shine as individuals.

Continuing Balanchine’s tradition of discouraging star turns, the company announces casting only about a week in advance. “Nutcracker” being a hot ticket, most spectators reserve their seats well before then, so witnessing a noteworthy debut is sheer serendipity. It’s a fairly sure bet that Kathryn Morgan, merely an apprentice but already a megawatt performer, will move into a role that’s a step or two up from her opening night assignment to the Hot Chocolate ensemble.

A major attraction of Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” is its cast of 41 youngsters from the School of American Ballet, the company’s celebrated academy. These children are undeniably adorable — for their physical beauty, their extraordinary accomplishment, and their evident joy in performing.

Classical-Dance Tradition

Balanchine didn’t use children just for their cuteness factor, though. To him, they were a symbol of the classical-dance tradition in which very young aspirants embark upon a rigorous course of training from which a chosen few will emerge as artists. The vivid pantomime monologue that the pre-pubescent prince delivers in the City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is rendered verbatim as Balanchine himself performed it at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg almost a century ago.

The New York City Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, through Dec. 30. Information +1-212-721-6500 or

© 2006 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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