The Nutcracker makes Busby Berkeley seem like an austere minimalist. Compared to that ballet’s sumptuous, self-satisfied bliss, synchronized swimming might as well be a hockey fight. Oregon Ballet Theatre—one of only six companies in the country to get permission from George Balanchine’s notoriously litigious heirs to stage the most famous version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet—has accordingly taken its over-the-top sets right out of the playbook of golden-age MGM musicals. Fred and Ginger, in the form of the Nutcracker Prince and Clara, are getting the band together for the big show: a multi-tiered confection of hoop dancers, somewhat uncomfortable Chinese stereotypes and fairies in beautiful dresses. The score is, of course, long familiar from insurance commercials and Tom and Jerry cartoons, a mall CD of classical music’s greatest hits. “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is so omnipresent in music boxes and snow globes that it is strange to see it performed sincerely rather than as quotation. The cast changes at most performances, but on opening night, Xuan Cheng’s lively grace in the role of the fairy felt like clear, fresh water. Such an unabashed ode to joy as The Nutcracker hardly exists anymore: It is a fantasia single-minded in its self-love. It’s possible to hate it for its reliance on spectacle, its sheer and almost numbing prettiness in OBT’s hands. But you would be wrong to do so. Joy is joy, and beauty beauty; it is right, sometimes, to affirm them.
SEE IT: The Nutcracker is at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 222-5538. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Monday, Dec. 18-23; 2 pm Friday-Monday, Dec. 20-23; and noon Tuesday, Dec. 24. $27-$144.