BWW Review: Moscow Ballet's THE GREAT RUSSIAN NUTCRACKER Wows And Satiates At The Soraya
On December 19th, 2018 a most extraordinary performance was witnessed at the Soraya Theatre of the Arts - the most traditional and established version, choreographically, even though it has been modified conceptwise, of the iconic ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, composed by Tchaikovsky, which is a true holiday tradition all over the world, was performed by the legendary Moscow Ballet.
Ballet Master Vladamir Troschenko, directed this production. The choreography was the choreography that I am familiar with as being the traditional steps and combinations that were the original staging by Marius Patipa and Lev Ivanov of the Imperial Russian Ballet. Selections from The Nutcracker were first performed as an orchestral suite in March 1892. The ballet proper debuted in December of that year. It was presented at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre.
Mid-20th Century, The Great Russian Nutcracker was re-choreographed and directed by Bolshoi star and pioneer ballet master of the post-communist era, Stanislav Vlasov. His soaring choreography, performed at Carnegie Hall in 1958 with partner Lilia Sabitova, was the inspiration for the Dove of Peace role. The Dove of Peace was originally performed by one dancer, but in 2012 it was re-introduced as a 2-person acro-ballet performance premiered by Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrichenko (who still tour with Moscow Ballet today).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893, who never in his lifetime achieved the success for his compositions that were later touted as genius, did not ever get to realize the success of his creations brought him later on. For generations now, The Nutcracker Ballet has long been the most popular ballet presented during the Christmas season.
An interesting footnote to the score of The Nutcracker is the famous use of the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. Tchaikovsky had discovered the newly-invented instrument just before departing for the U.S., and was immediately captivated by its "divinely beautiful tone.'' He arranged to have one sent to Russia secretly, because he was "afraid Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov may get hold of it and use the unusual effect before me.'' He needn't have worried, though, for although many other composers have written for Auguste Mustel's uniquely beautiful creation, none has been able to duplicate the magic achieved by this most passionate of all composers in his most popular work.
This version of the Nutcracker is divine ~ with the addition of the magnificent opening in Act II of the "Dove of Peace" duet, performed by Viktoriya Dymovska and Adel Kinzikeev, a stunning addition to the beloved tale, it sets this Nutcracker apart from all others. The heavenly, spiritual overtones give the viewers a feeling of hope, positivity and serenity, and the choreography is superbly performed.
Olga Pasternak, as Masha (aka Clara) transforms from a teen into a young woman due to her Uncle Drosselmeyer's (Igor Bulychov) magical gift of the Nutcracker Prince. She does a beautiful job in the lead role, as well as a superb performance by Rustem Imangaliyev as first, the nephew of her uncle, and then metamorphoses as they reach the Land of Peace and Harmony, into her Prince.
Masha's Uncle Drosselmeyers' performance was a bit disappointing; seeming not as bombastic nor charismatic enough to be the maestro and magician of the festivities but nonetheless inducing the series of events that come to pass.
The scenery and sets are quite grand, with a circular long staircase in their home, gorgeous lighting throughout, and the many elaborate scrims and backdrops depicting the different locations they travel to.
The first Act introduces the main characters and a family Christmas celebration in full gear. As they celebrate with theirs and their children's friends, they dance an organized minuet, complete with some lovely balletic sections; both parents and children, and then the young ones receive their gifts. Dolls for the girls and musical instruments for the boys. Masha and the other children are gathered around by Uncle Drosselmeyer to watch a funny puppet show, followed by the surprise appearance of first, the Harlequin Doll, (performed masterfully by Tom Bloch). His solo was full of unique leaps, cartwheels, turns en a la seconde, lively and precise, ending in a split on the floor. His costuming was just wonderful, as were all the others. Very elaborate and richly colorful.
Next, the Kissy Doll comes to life and performs her solo, boureeing, throwing kisses, and doing battements a la seconde with flexed feet, with arms akimbo, mimicking a dolls' movements. Also very clean and defined.
We next meet familiar Russian cultural icons: life-sized Matryoshka/Nesting Dolls, or Moor Dolls, who dance an acrobatic duet and, like the others, are carried off stage frozen in position, with angular arms and legs, reverting back to their doll poses.
Masha is gifted a Nutcracker soldier doll by her uncle, and is delighted, dancing with it, around and around with piquet turns and Russian changements, that are again, precisely articulated. A bit of mischief ensues and the Nutcracker doll gets injured and is on the floor, as Masha runs to revive him. She begins to cry, as the Nutcracker doll keeps trying to dance, falling off his double pirouettes, until her uncle bandages him up and magically helps him heal.
The evening's celebration comes to an end, after more group dancing, and merriment and they all say their goodbyes, curtsying politely and heading out as the stroke of midnight approaches.
Back in the living room, Masha appears in her nightgown, ready for bed, and dances with her uncle to a beautiful violin solo when the grandfather clock with an owl on top that has gold eyes that light up, strikes midnight. Actually, her uncle is making this happen, hidden from view.
This is where Masha's dream begins to materialize. One by one, some tiny mice begin to leap about behind them, as they continue to dance. They scare Masha and start to attack her, scurrying everywhere, grabbing her up, when the Rat King, a very scary, humongous creature with red glaring eyes, makes a grand entrance, triple pirouetteing, announcing his army of mice, who reenter, along with the life-sized Nutcracker and his army of soldiers, carrying swords, and a very fierce battle follows. The lighting turns a deep red as the fight intensifies.
Suddenly the stage is pitch black. A tight spotlight comes up on Masha, crying fitfully, thinking the worst has happened. She turns to see her Nutcracker on the floor, and realizes that it has come to life!
He is now a handsome prince, partnering her to a lullaby, as she grand jetes in between their partner-work and some beautiful lifts. There is a lift where he catches her in his arms as she leaps into them, laying horizontally, followed by a combination of attitude en avant and pirouettes as he balances her as she turns; into more leaps en l'air, a harp playing broken chords, finishing with a lift holding her up in front of him as she cambres over his shoulder backward. A beautiful section.
Tiny ballerinas all in white enter, circling around them, looking like fresh fallen snow, followed by the corps de ballet entering as snowflake graphics appear all over the inside of the auditorium walls and proscenium. This is the Snowflake ballet, and it is a wondrous sight. It is choreographed so that you "feel" the snow falling in shimmery snowflakes. The combinations and visuals are so perfectly suited to the effect.
There is a ride through the magical Snow Forest in a Troika Sleigh, as they are greeted by the Dove of Peace who welcomes the happy couple to Act II's Land of Peace and Harmony. The Dove of Peace duet is an overwhelming, breathtaking and luminous vision, one you might see only once in your lifetime. The feeling in the audience was one of awe and heaven-sent artistry, worthy of the phrase, "A Thing of Beauty." Every movement creates a picture of a dove with two wings, with each dancer, her 10-foot wing on her left arm, and his on his right arm, blending their movements together, spinning and fluttering, as they embody this symbol. The lifts are perfectly timed to keep the wings in flight and motion.
The entire scene is a beautiful Paradise, with trees and a waterfall on the upstage scrim, as a procession of dancers enter and encircle Masha and her Prince, with beautiful bird creatures among them, dancing in pairs as Masha waves her ribbon wand as each couple comes to life. Following them in is large Rat King and teeny tiny mice that dance until the Prince turns and stabs the big mouse, who falls down, dead.
Next are the Variations, which are always the most exciting to watch. The Spanish Variation, featuring Hanna Chudinova and Tom Bloch is a lively duet, done with much preciseness and verve, complete with a giant bull who gets his own solo, and flanked by two adorable little ones dressed elaborately and posing on either side of the stage.
Each variation is preceded by the entrance of two tiny dancers, each so adorable, each costumed to match the style being presented. And each variation has it's own 10-foot tall animal mascot or figure as part of the section.
The Chinese Variation, featuring Anasta Kovalenko and Rusian Vovk, is danced to plucking violins, he, doing turns en a la seconde, as she piquet-turns in a circle around him, smartly partnering together.
In the French Variation The Sugar Plum Fairy is preceded by precious little ones leading sheep on stage, as a beautiful duet ensues, done by Natalia Gubanova and Alexey Gerasimov. It is set to the famous lilting music we all know and love. A giant Unicorn dances about, joyously, behind them.
As always, the Arabian Variation is the most anticipated one of all. Viktoriya Dymovska and Adel Kinzikeev do not disappoint. They are brilliant, partnering to the clarinet solo, performing astounding lifts with such limberness and agility all the while maintaining complete balance and control. There are many overhead lifts, done either while continuously spinning, as she splits over his head, right into a fish, or her leaping from the floor, over his head, backwards, to a one-handed lift where she flips down out of it into an upside down split. The Giant Arabian elephant does his thing as they exit dramatically in one more spectacular lift.
The Russian Variation is full of excitement, performed at a brisk tempo by Oleksandra Temnenko, Serhii Hlava, and Illia Narolskyi. A splashy display of nine jump-splits a la seconde in a row, touching both feet at the same time, barrel roll turns, butterflies in a circle, and other acrobatic stunts color this section, with the Russian bear making sure to get his bow in, as well.
The Waltz of the Flowers is the largest and most lavish of all the production numbers and takes place in the Palace Garden with 1000 Champagne Pink Roses. The costumes, all in white, with pink touches are stunning, giving way to the many intricate sections and formations, duets and solos danced by all of the principals and the entire company.
Masha and The Prince (Olga Pasternak and Rustem Imangaliev) dance in celebration of their magical excursion. The dramatic melody allows them to build to a heightened finish ~ with several solos and duets between them. From her gorgeous penche out of an assisted back attitude turn into the developpe, arabesque, bourree forward combination, to the soaring classic lift where he carries her across stage, high in the air; his robust solo, with double and triple pirouettes, mixed with very strong turns en a la seconde, her lithe emboites in a circle, followed by clean double pique turns diagonally, his grand jetes, circling around, and her well-placed fouettes, it escalates nicely toward the climax, where the entire company is on stage, as each of the Variation couples do short encores, with more spectacular leaps, tricks and lifts, and settle into their individual poses as the number comes to an end.
Back in the family living room, the lighting going from pink to a soft blue, we see Clara awaken, dancing with the once-again Nutcracker doll, hugging him as she recalls her beautiful dream.
Quite enchanting, and drawing much adoration from the audience, were the local dance students who participated in this performance. They were cute as a button portraying the young mice, the tiny snowflakes, and the signature embodiments of each of the variations.
It was a mesmerizing event, exceeding expectations and highlighting the beauty of classical ballet during the holiday season.
Photos courtesy of The Moscow Ballet