Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker was the first of 20 Nutcrackers that the NY Times Chief Dance Critic reviewed in his “Chronicles of the Nutcracker” tour, in which he travels coast to coast reviewing the country’s sundry versions of this Christmas classic. Here are some of excerpts….
Tradition in America has it that performances of The Nutcracker begin only after Thanksgiving. I caught the Great Russian Nutcracker at — of all places — the Eisenhower Hall Theater in West Point, NY. The audience at the Nov. 10 matinee numbered between 2,000 and 3,000, about 10 percent of whom were Army cadets in their marvelous gray uniforms. (Impossible not to want them onstage, certainly during the ballet’s battle against the mice.)
This production, presented by the Moscow Ballet, belongs to the quite different line of thought that was initiated in Soviet Russia about this work. It’s about the growth of love. Once Clara — no, Masha, sorry — has helped the Nutcracker, and they’ve defeated the mice, he’s no sooner transformed into a Prince than they dance one pas de deux. And then in full adult maturity (i.e., a tutu for her and full ballet-cavalier apparel for him), they return at the climax of Act II to dance the music originally meant for the Sugarplum and her swain.
Drosselmeyer — the godfather/magician who gives Clara/Masha the Nutcracker in the first place — behaves in each version as if this story were about him. In the Great Russian staging (in which he wears no eye patch, unlike the character in Hoffmann’s original story), he spins on one leg in a grande pirouette during the battle. (Are we to presume that this helps defeat the mice? Maybe.)
In the Joffrey version Drosselmeyer keeps preening around melodramatically in a swirling cloak and even takes over the running of the Kingdom of Sweets whenever the Sugarplum is offstage.
The Great Russian version…has a knockout male dancer in the Arabian divertissement, Sergey Chumakov. He’s not actually the tallest male dancer onstage, but he seems it when partnering with Elena Petrachenko, and his extraordinary physique — broad shoulders above a slender waist, but both as firm as any acrobat’s — confers an unusual thrill upon the work’s many lifts.
Elsewhere, the Russian ballet style is elegant, expansive and musically unsubtle…In her first pas de deux with her transformed Nutcracker Prince, Masha (Alexandra Elagina) finds world enough and time to raise one leg slowly behind her until it’s the height of her shoulder. This slow ascent of one leg, while the music swells, seems brimful with feeling.
—Excerpts from NY Times Chief Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay’s Nov 26 narrative.