Down, but not defeated, Metropolitan Classical Ballet soldiered on Friday night at Texas Hall. With no live orchestra this year, a paltry number on men, and no glorious Olga Pavlova to work her magic as the Fairy Doll, The Nutcracker lost some of its luster, but not its pluck.
The company came on hard times this summer, and had to scuttle its fall production. It not only lost Pavlova as a consequence, but most of its male dancers, leaving only four for The Nutcracker. That made for a lopsided Christmas Eve party at the home of Herr and Frau Stahlbaum, but co-artistic director Alexander Vetrov gave it his all as Herr Stahlbaum. A great star with the Bolshoi, Vetrov summoned up all his Bolshoi dramatic might to enliven the party. He smiled, he spun, he leapt, until carried away by a bit too much champagne and the shear excitement of it all.
Other than a trimmed-down guest list, everything was the same at the Stahlbaum’s. Drosselmeyer (Oleksandr Kryvonis), outfitted in cape, powdered wig and red bird’s beak for a mask, soared though the room with abandon. The Officer Doll (Andrey Prikhodko) strode with stiff, military sharpness, only to be yanked backward by the ankle by a more powerful Mouse King, and ended up behind a curtain in a puff of smoke.
Once again, it was the tiny Nutcracker Doll (12-year old Raina Slater) that added the most charm. Outfitted in red tricorne hat, red jacket and exaggerated red lips, the Doll walks with tentative strides, snaps her feet, and dances around Clara (14-year-old Clara Hill) and later Fritz (10-year-old Roman Mejia). Fritz is a bit too rough, and the Doll collapses in a heap. Clara is distraught as Drosselmeyer picks up first a drooping arm only for it to fall, and then her head. Then, to the children’s delight, he restores her with a magic crank.
Once the action turns into the battle between a big and fierce Mother Mouse Queen (Maiko Abe) and the Nutcracker Doll—flanked by adorable little mice and menacing big mice and Toy Soldiers—the story is off and running. Its clever conceit is to turn most of the characters in Act 2, the Magical Enchanted Kingdom, into dolls that dance with crooked arms and flexed feet. Among the most charming are Ms. Abe as the Chinese Doll and the ebullient Sunny Wright and Mr. Kryvonis as the Russian Dolls.
Alas, as the Fairy Doll—known in most productions as the Sugarplum Fairy—Marina Goshko looks blank in a role that asks for delicate, eagerness. Fortunately, the Snowflakes—all spins and leaps—and an equally wonderful, lacy Waltz of the Flowers reminds us of what is magical about The Nutcracker.
►Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill and Dance Magazine.