The Moscow Ballet delivers a sweet production of this holiday classic for their 20th anniversary tour. They work with over 3,600 children around the U.S. to fill many of the roles of the ballet and for this production, students from the CityDance School and Conservatory become snowflakes, mice, and party guests. CityDance actually has a base in The Music Center at Strathmore, but also offers classes around the DC metro area.
Tchaikovsky originally wrote the ballet for choreographer Marius Petipa and the production was designed to feature children. It was fun to see the different skill levels of the children, from very young to near professionals. The Moscow Ballet calls this The Great Russian Nutcracker. Since Tchaikovsky was Russian, it could as well be called the original Nutcracker. They have stuck closely to classical dance, eschewing leaps, acrobatics, and special effects for perfect technique and artistry (with a few notable exceptions). The Moscow Ballet is based in the United States, though the dancers are from Russia. Their mission is to bring their unique ballet training and discipline to U.S. audiences, and cultivate young artists. Their Nutcracker is their major production, but they work with the young dancers throughout the year and I can only imagine the level of preparation it takes to pull this off around the country.
Many people see this show for the tradition, but this is a fun ballet regardless of the holidays. It is built to feature many different soloists and styles of ballet and music, especially in the second act’s dream sequence, and the children that are a part of every scene showcase the evolving talent and skill it takes to master this art. The snowflakes at the end of act one were the youngest artists on the stage, hardly more than four or five years old and they dashed around with as much energy as the snowflakes they were representing. Minutes later, star Olga Kifyak took the stage as “Masha” the main character of the ballet. You could imagine that not so many years ago, she was one of those tiny bright lights just discovering dance.
The party guests in the first scene were both the corps de ballet members and another group of slightly older children and got things off to a lovely start. Part of the fun of this art form is seeing just how much story can be told without a single word and the stage was filled with little moments between dancers at the party. Vitaly Voloshin commanded the rest of the action as Uncle Drosselmeyer.
The next group of kids onstage was also a little older and played the mice in the main battle as the nutcracker comes to life. The nutcracker is played by Ion Kuroshu or Vladmir Tristan on alternate nights.
Most of the first act was dedicated to the big numbers that took the entire ensemble and while impressive, the second act was magic for the more intimate moments. Different pairs of soloists performed throughout the act. In addition the two professionals, a pair or quartet of children were featured, this time of varying ages and level of skill, from the very young to several girls en pointe already. Every dancer in the company was very talented and so precise with every dance, but the Russian variation dancers Anna Radik and Vitaly Shvets let loose with Cossack dancing that had them spinning around the stage.
Elena Petrachenko and Sergey Churnakov were the major exception to the lack of acrobatics. They began the second half with Moscow Ballet’s unique “Dove of Peace” dance. In this production, they do not travel to the land of sweets, but rather the land of peace and harmony, and the dove of peace escorts them there The pair each had a beautiful white wing extended from one arm and they danced as one being. Later, they also took the stage for the more energetic Arabian variation with lifts and moves that I have never seen before. In one jaw-dropping moment, she was bowed backwards in a circle above his head when he dropped her and she slid to the floor around him. More children as snow maidens assisted their dance with quiet, stately choreography of their own.
The costumes by Arthur Oliver were gorgeous on everyone, from sparkling traditional tutus, to the Russian outfits to clever mice costumes of rags and a tail to the ball gowns of the party guests. The scenery consisted of two simple painted backdrops and the ever growing painted Christmas tree of the first act, all designed by Valentine Fedorov. The lighting design by Michael Wonson looked great with filters that splashed snowflakes or nutcrackers or huge clocks onto the stage and bathed it in dramatic light for the rest of the production.
With the Great Russian Nutcracker, you get the best of both worlds – dozens of talented local children that seem to grow up right before your eyes – and an impressive, professional troupe who doesn’t bother with theatrics or crowds the stage, but put on a traditional, beautiful show.
Running Time: Two hours with a 15 minute intermission.