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American Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker" at LA's new Kodak Theater is a spectacular production with choreography by Kevin McKenzie. When you enter the theater the curtain has a design of a snow covered village surrounded by mountains. The proscenium arch is decorated with a toy train and a Bird of Paradise that move at the top, and other pictures that make for a very Christmasy theme to really put you in the mood. The scrim fades to Drosselmeyer walking upstairs to his toy shop.

Clara and Fritz make shadow puppets on the wall. There's a big cupboard, antique furniture, and the big Christmas tree like an old German fantasy. Clara shows the Nutcracker to the kids with washboard accompaniment from the orchestra. The mice come out and dance a ring around Clara. The grandfather clock slowly flaps his arms like a methodical, mechanical penguin. The mice leave through the fireplace and the Christmas tree rises and is replaced by a floor to ceiling one. The Rat King and Nutcracker fight. The Rat lifts the Nutcracker and spins him. Clara jumps in and beats the Rat before he's vanquished by the Nutcracker. Clara pulls his head off, and he becomes a handsome Prince. They do a passionately warm pas de deux. He rolls her over his back, and lifts her legs up straight over their heads. He leaps, pirouettes, and splits. Then, they embrace. He lifts her high and they both go down to the floor with his head in her lap.

The background rolls away to a cutout in the shape of a Christmas tree. It's snowing. Fourteen or so Fairies enter and Clara and the Prince return to a golden snow shower. The Fairies move like snowflakes, whirling and swirling with their arms, legs, and torsos in constant motion. An offstage chorus creates a dreamy fantasy atmosphere. McKenzie is a wizard of moving large groups of people, and this group meshes like clockwork. The Snow Queen does a solo with leaping, twirling splits all en pointe around the stage. The other Fairies go down on the floor in two lines to form a path. They look like snow drifts on each side and she leads Clara and the Prince down the path.

Act 2 is an image of snow falling on the curtain. It fades to the Snow Queen and Snowflakes in a rosy glow. This is an unusual production. There's no Mother Ginger, but we do have a Unicorn. This seems to be something that McKenzie has an affinity for, since it was used in "Cinderella" last year, with dancers horses pulling the coach. He uses it well, too. The Unicorn prances across the stage. He's sleek, elegant, and he hardly seems to touch the ground. The sides are a fantasy garden with big, puffy brightly colored flowers. Clara, the Prince, and the Unicorn dance, and the Unicorn lays down with his head in Clara's lap.

The Arabian dancers do a slow, sensuous pas de deux. Marcelo Gomes is on his back and holds Carmen Corella straight out over him, up to his knees, lifts her out, holds her knees, and she slowly bends back all the way down to the floor. Then he whips her around and back up. It's erotically scintillating with great athleticism and strength. The Russians leap in their baggy Cosack-like outfits. They form pyramids on each other's backs and leap around the stage.

One of the great highlights is the Waltz of the Flowers. About 30 dancers in soft pastel colors delicately spin, jump, and kick. Five Snowflakes are in the center and everything flows out from them. The ensemble is roughly in the shape of a snowflake, and maintains that shape and feel whether it's a few dancers, or the full complement of flowers. The Waltz of the Flowers was choreographed by John Meehan and is one the highlights of the ABT "Nutcracker."

The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier present another highlight. Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky are absolutely stupendous. They're husband and wife and seem to know every movement of the other. The partnering is exquisite. She moves with smoothness, precision and seems lighter than air as she effortlessly spins, increases in intensity and passion, and leaps into his arms. He raises her straight up and out. Dvorovenko is a huge presence as she lifts her leg straight up over her head. A lot of ballerinas do this, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone raise that leg as straight up and as high as Dvorovenko. It's a straight line at 180 degrees up from toe to toe in arabesque. Belotserkovsky jumps high and kicks his legs and flutters his feet. He kicks his legs out in grand jetes making a wide circle leaping and kicking around the stage. They fly around and she leaps straight up to his shoulder in a sitting position and he spins around. They do this a couple more times as an exclamation point. You can see Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky perform this at UCSB's Campbell Hall with the West Coast Ballet tomorrow. These are two of the best dancers in the world. It's a level of talent that does not come to Santa Barbara except for the occasional soloists with the Symphony or the Chamber Orchestra.

Clara is in the spot light at the front of the stage as the dream has vanished. The Snow Queen puts the Nutcracker back in the cupboard and she embraces it. This ABT "Nutcracker" is as good as any I've seen. It's magical and enchanting. The new Kodak Theater at Hollywood and Highland is a tremendous venue, and American Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker" continues there through Dec. 23.