and traditional: Moscow Ballet.
Mae G. Banner
Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker
Palace, Dec. 18
The Capital District boasts a profusion of Nutcrackers
presented each December on stages from Glens Falls to Albany.
This year, we broke our own record and had nine different
productions of the ballet that’s become a holiday ritual.
The new entry was a touring production by the Moscow Ballet,
whose dancers come from the Moscow Choreographic Institute
and the Vaganova Institute. The 50 eloquent dancers, augmented
by more than a dozen youngsters from regional ballet schools,
flooded the stage at the Palace in Albany just a week before
Moscow Ballet’s Nutcracker was a visual delight filled
with enchanting colors and patterns, but without the drama
and excitement we’re accustomed to in even the smallest American
productions. Even the battling mice seemed almost sedate in
their measured dancing.
The wonderful thing about Nutcracker is that the ballet
is able to expand and contract, to accommodate variations
and inventions peculiar to local cultures. There’s a Harlem
Nutcracker to Duke Ellington’s arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s
music. In Utah, Mother Ginger is transformed into a giant
beehive filled with little dancing bees. In Albany, David
Otto’s Capital Ballet Company adds a Dutch variation.
Moscow Ballet’s choreographer Anatoli Emelianov concentrates
on harmonious pictures, superbly danced. He is not interested
in character, narrative, or special effects (no tree that
grows), but in the purity of the dancing. In contrast to the
dramatic action of American productions I’ve seen, the Moscow
dancers step through their roles with elegance and refined
technique, but no drive. They show poetic (and sometimes gently
comical) moving pictures, especially the lovely arrangements
of living snowflakes who wear snowball crowns and carry glittering
icicle wands in each hand—a pageant without a story.
This Nutcracker is about beauty for its own sake. The
tempos are markedly slower than what Americans are used to.
Lyrical movements of the arms provide a romantic balance to
strong pinpoint legs. Instead of a Sugarplum and her Cavalier,
we follow Masha (that’s Clara in other productions) and her
Nutcracker Prince from her living room to a Land of Peace
and Harmony (no cloying candies, but an array of international
duets with the leading dancers framed by varying groups of
The wildest of these duets was the Russian, saved for last.
Alexander Polomarchuk performed remarkable split leaps high
in the air and Zhanna Sokalskaya knocked off an amazing set
of speedy fouettes. This red-costumed pair were real applause-
getters with the fastest, most athletic choreography in the
Drosselmeier, the magician and toymaker, guides the dance
from start to finish. He leads Masha and the Prince through
the Snow Land to the expansive international fair, where they
see the familiar Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and French (sometimes
called Marzipan) dancers, all in brilliant, bandbox-fresh
costumes, doing their lovely or exotic turns.
Designer Valentin Fedorov applies a comforting Russian touch
with backdrops painted like glowing picture books, dreamscapes
of rounded towers, giant flowers and butterflies. The international
scenes include giant pastel- colored dancing animals in the
background, such as might be seen at a village fair: for the
Spanish, a woolly bull; for the French, a big sky-blue sheep
and her lamb; for the Arabic, a pair of nodding, bumbling
elephants; for the Chinese, a huge pink paper dragon with
many legs; and, for the Russian, a big, huggable bear. The
many children in the audience giggled appreciatively at this
As Tchaikovsky’s music builds to its grand climax, Drosselmeier
brings out the Flowers, six women in long frothy orange tutus
and their tuxedoed partners, who dance enchantingly before
a backdrop of colonnades and garlands.
At last, Tatiana Predeina as Masha and Vladimir Statni as
the Prince dance the final empyrean duet that’s usually done
by Sugarplum and her Cavalier. Here, Emelianov retains the
traditional choreography—a hundred-year-old legacy from Lev
Ivanov (Petipa’s assistant at the Maryinski Theater in St.
Petersburg). It is glorious, so wedded to the music that no
choreographer would dare to tamper with it.
Predeina is the ethereal ideal of the ballerina, with tiny
steps on point, multiple pirouettes and steely balances on
one toe. Statni is big, yet velvety in his spins and traveling
leaps. The group finale brings all the couples forward in
a polonaise. The flowers return, bending back and sinking
to their knees in a half-circle around Masha and her Prince.
Drosselmeier makes his final bows to the couple and all wave