Monday, September 24, 2012

Nutcracker The Quintessential Holiday Diversion


It's always a good idea in December to take a pause from holiday craziness to stop and enjoy something beautiful.
The Moscow Ballet provided that opportunity this weekend in their lovely performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker at the Orpheum Theatre. There were no words, no credit cards and no stress. Instead the audience enjoyed a mix of local and international dancers who clearly enjoyed expressing one of Christmas’ classic stories.
The Nutcracker tells the tale of a girl (usually known as Clara, she went by Masha in this production) who meets a magical man at her parents’ Christmas party. The man sees how mean her cohort Fritz is to her and gives her a lively nutcracker doll, which Fritz promptly breaks.
Masha sneaks to the tree to check on the nutcracker at midnight, and suddenly finds herself a holiday Alice-in-Wonderland. She is toy sized, and she watches as the mice in the house battle the Nutcracker and his toy friends. Masha helps the nutcracker win the battle (after which he becomes a prince), and the night proceeds to show her magical performances from all of the toys and the sweets in the house as they celebrate their victory.
As a touring group with many future stops, the Moscow Ballet was clearly forced to eliminate some of the trappings they otherwise might have had, such as a live orchestra and some of the well-known characters of the ballet (Mother Gigone and the children who emerge from her skirt being a vivid example).
The ballerinas were all lovely in this production, but Alexandra Elagina (Masha) particularly shone. Elagina was more than a ballerina -- she was possessed with Masha’s heart and featured the perfect balance of restraint and unleashed feeling that is true ballet.
Each “sweet” vignette was also enchanting as the dancers created nationalistic interpretations of ballet’s traditional choreography. The Russian candy canes (Mihai Botoc and Vdovychenko Ganna) had the audience roaring with their acrobatic moves, and the Arabian coffees (Petrichenko Elena and Chumakov Sergey) featured a Cirque du Soleil-esque poise.
In a surprising local twist, the ballet also used local dancers in the children’s roles. These little ballerinas ranged widely in age, but all performed their pieces beautifully and clearly enjoyed sharing the stage with a premiere company.
This was a wonderful show, and it would be great to see the Moscow Ballet return to Minneapolis with a live orchestra and for a longer stay. For now, catch them if you ever get the chance.