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Rehearsing the 'Nutcracker'

In the workshops of the Boston Ballet, another ''Nutcracker'' is being polished and assembled, piece by tinselly piece. In an upstairs studio, choreographer Bruce Wells watched the Sugarplum Fairy and the Cavalier turn and leap through splashes of late afternoon sunlight. ''It's really your elbow,'' he said, after a discussion about how the Cavalier was holding the Fairy's hand to help her turn. ''Your elbow.'' The Cavalier straightened his. ''There you go.''

Downstairs, it was the dancers for the ''Russian'' variation. Artistic director Violette Verdy, a sprightly blonde Frenchwoman and former Balanchine ballerina, flew at the squadron of burly young men, tugging their hands to show them how hard to pull on imaginary reins. She pranced around in front of them, confessing, ''I never did this dance,'' but showed them how, nonetheless, and pulled one dancer's head down and messed up his hair because he wasn't tossing it horsily enough. The tape recorder started up again, and they threw up their arms with instantaneous stage-smiling abandon, stomped their heels Cossack-style , and made the floor shake. Later, an apprentice said, ''I'm a Russian, a mouse, and in the finale. It's too much.''

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Elbow by elbow, step by stomp by leap by twinkle, they worked through an afternoon of niggling details. It was hard to imagine these humble workers smeared with sweat, dust, and the resin they step in to keep their shoes from skidding as the glorious satin-and-sequin, plumed creatures who will throng the stage of the Wang Center starting Dec. 7. But the only magic in the ''Nutcracker'' is hard work, attention to detail, and commitment.

Violette Verdy told the apprentice to look out into space, not into the mirror. ''The minute you're looking into the mirror it's like you're humming to yourself instead of singing for the public,'' she said. He put his head back a little farther. Next week, he will look up, and there will be a mass of faces turned toward him so he can dazzle them, as if by magic.

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