Given all the current cast rotations, it's a lucky thing Mikhail Baryshnikov's "The Nutcracker" is as resilient a production as it appears to be, not only accommodating the changes but actually taking on intriguing new highlights because of them.
In her first appearance as Clara yesterday afternoon, Kristine Elliott was most successful in conveying the transformation from dreaming child to romanticizing adolescent. Lighter, less emphatic steps would give her dancing the softer veneer the part wants. She had a splendidly gallant Nutcracker-Prince in Kevin McKenzie, but their mutual adoration seemed a bit too conspicuously artificial.
George de la Pena, in his first time out as Drosselmeyer, was an unconventionally youthful, cheerily animated toymaker, with an air of homespun magnanimity. What was missing -- for instance, in his party scene entrance -- was the touch of mystery and even menace that belongs to the role. For Drosselmeyer not only summons dreams to reality but also takes them away, a fact, unfortunately, of which De la Pena's incongruous smiles in the crucial Act II pas de trois gave no hint.
Among the several new contributions in the divertissements, the most noteworthy were those of Deirdre Carberry and Johan Renvall in the charming Shepherds' dance. As ever, many small but congenial bits -- like Frank Smith's bumbling grandpalent color and richness to the performance.