Edward Villella's MCB, currently on a second visit to Edinburgh, continues to demonstrate how Balanchine choreography should be danced - ungrudgingly and incautiously but prescriptively. That it manages to show us all this in The Nutcracker is some achievement, for the ballet is crowded with visual distractions and costumes that wouldn't look out of place in department store promotions for candy, pizza and Pierrots. Balanchine fills the work with children, and in no other version of The Nutcracker (a kids ballet if ever there was one) have I seen them so properly employed: as real children, rather than as the grotesque mini-adults that are a feature of so much ballet. Only the relationship between the Little Prince (Drosselmeier's nephew) and Little Princess (Marie Stahlbaum) is stilted by the imposition of grown-up mannerisms upon a boy (Craig Salstein) and girl (Eve MacDonald) who looked too young even to want to play out the bond when it first comes to light.
After "the Battle of the Mice and Toy Soldiers" and Marie's diversionary tactics to save the Nutcracker from death, the journey to Sugar Plum Fairy land begins. Here, Marie and her miniature Prince (previously the Nutcracker) have little to do but sit and be entertained, but the transformation from young innocents to well-behaved little people is jarring. Yet one of the most congenial things about this Nutcracker is how Balanchine presents children being entertained mainly by their peers. Adult roles in the various divertissements are arresting - Myrna Kamara's sinuous, fortifying Coffee Dance; Arnold Quintane's acrobatic Candy Cane; Mabel Modrono's limpid, keeling Dew Drop - but the accompanying juvenile corps does more than decorate. One of the most memorable images is of an army of tiny angels in full-length skirts, gliding across the stage as though on wheels.
Balanchine's choreography yields a perfect mix of spontaneity and discipline in the children. (All, except the Prince, are local kids, rehearsed in under three weeks.) Iliana Lopez's startlingly Amazonian Sugar Plum Fairy dives into the frame with a more pithy vigour than her ever-ready Cavalier, Franklin Gamero, who needs most of his energy for lifting, catching and supporting her and, I'd guess, for the trick where he appears to pull Lopez, now on pointe in arabesque, towards him. Although the grandeur of Gamero and Lopez's duet is in keeping with the traditional Nutcracker scenario, it's not as major a highlight as Balanchine's "Waltz of the Flowers", with its luscious configurations of blooms in full florescence.
n Mark Morris's The Hard Nut will be performed at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre from 29 Aug to 2 Sep. Booking: 0131-529 2590