In 1993, the Moscow Ballet toured the Great Russian Nutcracker (GRN) for the first time; directed and choreographed by Stanislav Vlasov, the tour featured “innovative rolling backgrounds”. Since then the annual tour has increased to include about 100 performances on the tour to cities from San Juan to California, traveling with two simultaneous touring companies of forty dancers each.
There have been many variations on this great dance classic since Marius Petipa crafted the original to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In fact, Petipa’s work was itself based on a retelling by Alexandre Dumas, père, of the E.T.A Hoffman tale, ”The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”.
This reviewer had the opportunity to experience the GRN at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, Illinois on December 3, 2017.
What is seen on the stage in Moscow’s GRN vision is different in detail from Hoffman’s story. Of course, all the various choreographed versions – such as George Balanchine’s and the Mariinsky’s- differ and they all contain particular stylistic elements, but the basic plot remains the same. Whether set as Hoffman’s was, in 1816 Germany, or as the version at the Rosemont is, in timeless Moscow- Clara is now Masha- this is Christmas Eve. We are in the large and grand home of the Mayor’s family. Here, the decorated tree is set against Moscow’s inimitable skyline with the iconic onion domes. Children are cavorting as the party gets joyous with music and dance. And then godfather Drosselmeyer arrives and the magic begins.
Most people know the story. The Nutcracker is broken and repaired, comes to life; the Mice (here they are Rats) led by their King, must be vanquished. The sleeping child dreams of a wondrous land, watches/participates in many exotic dances, including duets with the Prince Nutcracker; finally she awakens. Here, certain details diverge from the traditional, with a decided Russian flavor; part 2 in particular has been re-conceptualized.
In Act 1 the lustrous scenery forms a background for the retained details we’ve all grown to love and know; the tree miraculously grows; the gondola arrives; the Rat King’s costume conceals a welter of little rats; the snow falls. Also, Arthur Oliver’s costumes worn throughout both acts were sumptuous, beautifully designed and clever.
In Act 1, new details include:
- Uncle Drosselmeyer presides over a puppet show that is a micro-version of upcoming events; he is not a scary figure.
- Drosselmeyer uses a super-sized Matrushka Doll to unveil his life-sized Kissy, Harlequin and Moorish Dolls as presents.
- The adults dance Russian Court dances, which the youngsters mimic.
In Act 2, numerous differences from the original all contribute to create a wonderful myth; some of them include:
- Masha and her Nutcracker Prince travel to the Snow Forest where traditional Russian folk figures welcome Masha and her Nutcracker Prince and escort them to the Land of Peace and Harmony, (rather than the “Land of Sweets” of the Sugar Plum Fairy)where all creatures, animal and human, live in tranquility with each other.
- The act opens with the Moscow Ballet’s exclusive “Dove of Peace” in which 2 dancers adroitly balance and leverage with each other to form a soaring white bird with a 20- foot wingspan.
- In the Land of Peace and Harmony emissaries (who bear a distinct resemblance to Masha’s dolls!) appear from around the world to welcome and honor Masha and her Prince on this peaceful Christmas night. Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, Russian, and French couples demonstrate the great dances and spirit of their country’s heritages.
- The dancers are accompanied by 10- foot tall puppets that are symbolic of each country’s unique cultural characteristics: the Spaniard’s Bull represents the gift of daring; the Arabian Elephants bring the gift of wisdom; the Chinese Dragon brings the gift of playfulness; the Balalaika-playing Russian Bear bestows strength on Masha and the French Unicorn imparts imagination.
Unique to Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker are the multitude of different stage-setting backdrops such as the peaceful atmosphere in Act 2 created by Valentin Federov’s three-dimensional effects. One features a rainbow that symbolizes the road from Masha’s bedroom to the Land of Peace and Harmony; another is in homage to Henri Rousseau’s famous jungle paintings.
The production was replete with many little dancing feet, and the audience was packed with a large number of children in glittering tutus- presumably, aspiring or admiring ballerinas. And this is really the essence of this production- in a nutshell, this is a Nutcracker for kids as well as adults who love ballet.
Chicago is a tough place to sell any Nutcracker other than the Joffrey Ballet’s incredible version, revised just last year, a staple of the Holiday season for over 40 years, and one accompanied in recent years by the Chicago Philharmonic, itself a fine Orchestra who are-incidentally-past masters at Tchaikovsky.
The Moscow production was set to taped music; at times the sound quality was mediocre, the sound level variable; thus, that thrilling aspect of the production was hampered. Further, certain timing problems were caused by the necessity of incorporating a significant number of young local dancers into the cast. Of course, by doing so, the Company made a dream come true for these boys and girls.
It’s important to note that all Moscow Ballet dancers are graduates of the Russian Ballet School system which is strictly controlled, and high standards are met by all graduates. Company dancers have auditioned and were accepted at Russian ballet schools as children (about 10 yrs old) and trained every day for 10 years.
The individual dancers in the GRN demonstrated excellent technical prowess. In particular, both pas de deux were imbued with light and romance. Special mention must be made of the virtuosic and impressive lifts and leaps.
As a Christmastime display, as an extraordinary visual entertainment for the Holiday season, it is well worth seeing. The kids on the stage and in the audience- of every age- had stars in their eyes and were transfixed with wonder.
The cast for the 2 Chicago shows included 18 dancers in the Corps de Ballet, and featured, in Act 1:
Olena Pecheniuk/Oleksandr Skulkin and Nataliia Ivasenko/Rustem Imangaliyev as Masha/Prince; Maksim Stodushi as the Nutcracker Doll; Igor Bulychov as Uncle Drosselmeyer; Romana Dumanska/Garri Sevoyan as the Mayor Stahlbahms; Mykola Vorivodin as Brother Fritz; Dmytro Omelchenko as the Rat King; Anna Tyutyunnyk as the Kissy Doll; Denys Vasiyliev as the Harlequin Doll; and Viktoriya Dymovska/Adel Kinzikeev as the Moorish Dolls.
In Act 2, the cast included:
Viktoriya Dymovska/Adel Kinzikeev as the Dove of Peace; Anna Tyutyunnyk, Ruslan Vovk in the Chinese Variation; Viktoriya Dymovska/Adel Kinzikeev in the Arabian Variation; Olena Pecheniuk/Oleksandr Skulkin and Nataliia Ivasenko/Rustem Imangaliyev in the French Variation; Oleksandra Temnenko/Pavlo Gryts in the Russian Variation; and Anastasiia Yarotska/Andriy Mykhalikha in the Spanish Variation.
Well-deserved kudos go to Lighting Designer Don Fox for illuminating the effects.
For information and tickets to the Great Russian Nutcracker, go to www.nutcracker.com
All photos courtesy of The Moscow Ballet