Music: Christmas Dream

The orchestra launched into the tuneful old Tchaikovsky score, the curtain rose on a well-stuffed parlor, and for the next two hours Manhattan ballet fans lost themselves in George Balanchine's newest ballet, a full-length re-creation of The Nutcracker. It was one of the most cheerful evenings of make-believe the ballet had seen in years.

The scene was an old-fashioned Christmas party, decked out with a tall tree, stacks of packages wrapped in red ribbon—and twelve children (from Balanchine's School of American Ballet) tumbling about the stage in colorfully costumed tumult. Then, when the last...

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