The American Ballet Theatre's 2002 "Nutcracker" at the Kodak Theatre is the perfect marriage of fantasy and art. The party is the joy of Christmas personified. The kids play with the toys and one of the boys pulls the Nutcracker away from Clara. They have a tug-of-war, the boys on one side, girls on the other, until the bully comes in and, with a swat, knocks it out of both of their hands, and breaks it. Erica Cornejo is a magical Clara. She projects the joy of a young, but precocious child at the thrill of Christmas. She infects the whole scene, indeed the whole theatre with it. In the first part, she's the only one with pointe shoes, carries the action around the whole stage, and ties everyone and everything together. Joaquin de Luz partners her exquisitely as the Nutcracker Prince. He's athletic and powerful, but warm and tender with Clara.

In the second scene, the battle between the rats, Nutcracker, and soldiers, the big Christmas tree at the back lifts away, the room opens up, and a truly huge Christmas tree is revealed. A Gingerbread Man, Raggedy Ann Doll, and other ornaments step down before they are attacked by the rats. These costumes are outstanding as two rats pick the Gingerbread Man up, and squeeze him into a twisted mass.

The Land of Snow is always one of my favorite parts, and Snow Queen, Michele Wiles is exquisite as she steps from the Snowflakes in her crisply elegant solo.

Act 2 has big brightly colored flowers on each side. Jared Matthews' Unicorn adds a whimsical touch to the whole thing, as he plays with Clara, nuzzling up to her with his head and horn, before lying down with his head in her lap. The Arabian Dancers are always favorites, and Sandra Brown and Isaac Stappas are exquisite. From the sixth row, you can see the tension in their muscles as he lifts her up, she stretches back, straight out in a sinewy mass with him holding her by the legs. He rolls her around his shoulder in what seems like an effortless glide. From that close you lose a lot of the precision and effect of the choreography, but you see how the dancers do what they do, the facial expressions, and the things that almost make you feel like you're a part of the show. This is especially true in the ensemble numbers, like "The Waltz of the Flowers," where the corps comes at you, kicking in waves that seem even more fluid up close.

Paloma Herrera is a sleek and smooth Sugar Plum Fairy. She's exquisitely athletic as she spins like a top. Her Pas de Deux with Marcelo Gomes is electric. He leaps with power as the Cavalier, and her solo puts the exclamation point on this wonderful "Nutcracker" by ABT at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. This is the same production by Kevin McKenzie that ABT brought to Southern California last year and continues through the 15th at The Kodak before moving to OCPAC in Costa Mesa Dec. 18 - 22. To read more, last year's review is here.