Dallas — Mistletoe and jingle bells are just around the corner as we approach the holiday season. To prepare us for the sparkling lights and gingerbread cookies, a myriad of Nutcracker ballets have flooded the DFW area. To start the season, Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium hosted Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker—returning to Dallas as an audience favorite. In the Moscow Ballet’s version of Marius Petipa’s classic ballet, extravagance and spectacle were of the upmost importance. Busy spatial patterns, vibrant sets, and mesmerizing costumes kept viewers spellbound from start to finish. These bold visuals were a necessary disguise to the absent iconic Sugar Plum Fairy role and the lack-luster technique of the company. In addition to the awe-inspiring backdrops and sets, the production also featured local talent—casting 65 students from 25 dance studios throughout Dallas. With a cast of young, promising talent, incredible acrobatic touches, and festive sets, it’s easy to see why the Great Russian Nutcracker continues to return year after year.
Despite a few alterations, the premise of the ballet remained the same—Masha (Iryna Borisova) celebrates at a holiday party with friends, family, and of course Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Kostyantin Vinovoy. The party scene showcased a bright stage flooded with swirling waltz steps, comedic toy dolls, and sprightly children darting through the chaos. Masha’s brother Fritz (Arashi Kunita) stood out amongst the flurry of excitement through a short but enigmatic solo, featuring fast pirouettes and buoyant jumps. Another golden moment occurred when the dramatic Vinovoy introduced the Moor Dolls (Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrichenko). In the first of many acrobatic variations of the evening, Chumakov hoisted his partner straight above his head and spun around furiously—maintaining just one hand on her torso as she balanced above him with outstretched limbs.
However, the fantastic scene shifted into an eerie, unsettling atmosphere as the night came to an end and the enchanted Nutcracker Doll (Mikhail Sherbakov) came to life with rigid marches and stiff arm swings. And so the battle between the toy soldiers and rats began—the hunched group of rats pranced in diagonal pathways while the soldiers marched solidly in straight, parallel lines—creating a complex organization of spatial pathways. Amidst the battle, Masha clung to her Nutcracker prince as they completed a series of fluid lifts and gentle embraces. Borisova displayed a more confident demeanor in this section, performing longer extensions and accented turns. Act I concluded with snowflakes, snow maidens, and snow sprites in white tutus swirling through the space. Graceful and serene, the ballerinas swayed and balanced in a slow, elongated manner.
Once again wowing the audience with an incredible display of strength, power, and balance, Chumakov and Petrichenko opened Act II with furious spins as Petrichenko embodied the Dove of Peace. Perched solidly on her partner’s hand, she flew through the air—dipping daringly and morphing into extended shapes while Chumakov increased the speed of his turns. Unfortunately, after this spectacular beginning, the quality of the choreography began to decline as Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabian, and Russian couples welcomed Masha and her prince to the Land of Peace and Harmony. The Spanish and French variations were charming in nature but failed to display technical proficiency or chemistry between partners. In contrast, the Chinese and Russian sections proved more exciting due to their high-energy quality. As Chinese dancers, Roman Baglay and Hinano Haito kicked and leaped with delicate strength. Similarly, Russian dancers Evhen Babkov and Daria Baglay stunned with massive jumps and explosive turns. While these charismatic sections delighted viewers, Chumakov and Petrichenko undoubtedly stole the show with their Arabian variation. Slithering in spirals around her base, Petrichenko showcased her flexibility in over-extended leg splits and contorted balances before Chumakov tossed her effortlessly into the air watched her fall around him as if she was a ring landing on a peg.
The corps de ballet continued with a mediocre “Waltz of the Flowers”—their beautiful lines missed a connection to the rises and falls of the accompaniment—never quite reaching the level of drama brought on by the musical score.
The shocking tricks and lively spatial formations gave the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker a dazzling and entertaining appearance. Although the production succeeded in entertainment value, the main content, characterizations, and technical expertise of the dancers seemed to hide behind this sparkly exterior. Here, commercialization and extravagance overpowered more artistic and creative endeavors.