Alessandra Ferri is justly celebrated for her dramatic powers, so it was not surprising that her portrayal of Clara in the American Ballet Theatre "Nutcracker" again had extraordinary urgency, depth and detail on Friday in Shrine Auditorium.
Ferri's new and highly original achievement, however, was nullifying the passivity of the role. In passages where the character usually seems little more than a piece of furniture to be passed from hand to hand, Ferri made Clara's changing emotions and awareness the central experience of the ballet.
This Clara felt the loss of her Prince before Drosselmeyer spirited him away, and sensed it was all a dream before being told. Finally, when she faced the morning light, her joy seemed to bloom directly from the self-discovery in her dream. An imaginative, gorgeously executed characterization.
Both in Ballet Theatre's recent Orange County season and here, Ferri seemed to be aiming for a broader scale as a classical dancer--with extensions forced to maximum height and a generalized ballerina radiance imposed on display passages. She had not previously appeared in this ballet opposite Ross Stretton, but their partnership went smoothly.
Stretton danced the title role with greater warmth than in previous seasons, but his extreme caution still blunted the thrills of the bravura choreography. Michael Owen made a bland, jocular Drosselmeyer.