Dallas — With the last bite of pumpkin pie gone, the Christmas season begins, but just like Black Friday deals, the Nutcracker time of year is already going strong well before the turkey carving began. Moscow Ballet’s annual tour of The Great Russian Nutcracker returned to Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium to kick off the season of all things nutty and bright. Young dancers from around the Metroplex look forward to this event every year as a chance to perform alongside international dancers. This year 91 students from 21 studios graced the stage performing roles from party guest to mice and more.
With a story by Alexandre Dumas (as an adaptation of an E.T.A. Hoffman tale), music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and choreography by Marius Petipa, the ballet initially received a ho-hum reception at its premiere in late 19th century Russia. A revival by George Balanchine in the 1950s, however, cemented the show as an anticipated holiday ritual.
Companies around the world tweak the story a bit and might change up some names, but the structure is always the same. In this one, Masha (Ekaterian Bortiakova) and Fritz Stahlbaum (Viacheslav Katvanov) bustle about their family’s annual Christmas party. Uncle Drosselmeyer (Sergey Dotsenko) brings a plethora of toys and dolls, but the greatest gift of a nutcracker is for Masha. A jealous Fritz breaks it, but Uncle Drosselmeyer is there to mend it.
Later, Masha dreams of a battle between the Rat King and the Nutcracker. After a victory, the Nutcracker Prince takes her on a journey to the Snow Forest and on to the Land of Peace and Harmony, where the company places its own spin. Nutcracker purists might be disappointed at the lack of a Sugar Plum Fairy, but a stunning Dove of Peace (an MB exclusive) might ease the shock a bit. Ambassadors from different parts of the world bring animals and dance for Masha and the Prince.
If you’ve never seen Moscow Ballet’s version of the classic show, you really should make it out at least once. It’s one of the most visually captivating spectacles of the season, with dazzling costumes by designer Arthur Oliver and intricately detailed backdrops, newly designed this year by Academy Award nominee Carl Sprague (The Grand Budapest Hotel). The latter’s design for “Waltz of the Flowers” features a gorgeous palace courtyard reminiscent of the Grand Palace of Peterhof in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Another reason to make the trek is actually two: Elena Petrichenko and Sergey Chumakov. The duo completely stole the show on three separate occasions. Act I had them bounding and spinning about as the Moor dolls in the party scene. Act II opened with them creating the Dove of Peace, with a 20-foot combined wingspan in a delightful balancing act. The best, though, was their famous Arabian divertissement. With amazing feats of flexibility, exciting partnering, and stunning transitions, the passionate segment rightfully garnered the most applause.
The principal dancers, Bortiakova and Mussakhanov, were no slouches, though. Two lively pas de deux and a sweet chemistry between the two made them a charming couple. Dotsenko mades an impressive old toymaker and had the most intricate choreography for the Drosselmeyer character.
Featured dancers for the other segments performed fairly well, especially Ganna Tyutyunnik and Ruslan Vovk in the Chinese, but the major ensemble numbers (snow and waltz) disappointed yet again with issues of timing and lackluster performances that shouldn’t show up in a company of this caliber. Add to that a large children’s cast for the divertissements, and the show begins to lose a bit of its brilliance.
It’s still worth it to see the visuals and the amazing balancing, steamy yet family-friendly duo. Put it on your list next year if you haven’t seen it.