DANCE | Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian Nutcracker" lives up to its name

If you blinked, you missed the opportunity to see a two-night-only performance of a Christmas classic, The Great Russian Nutcracker. Like a melting snowflake, the Moscow Ballet moves in and out of towns throughout the United States during December to perform this very traditional interpretation.

A little history: the first performance of this Tchaikovsky classic took place 1892 in Russia. The ballet is based on a fairy tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The Moscow Ballet is a relatively new troupe (founded 1993) and travels around the world staging classics including The Nutcracker, Carmen, and Sleeping Beauty, among others. South Carolina Public Television produced a full-length Nutcracker featuring the Moscow Ballet which was funded, in part, by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This is significant to me because throughout the ballet I kept thinking how absolutely wonderful the performance was for the children all around me.

Minneapolis's State Theatre was the perfect venue for this golden performance. The theater's illustrious interior became part of the stage as the curtain rose to beautifully illustrated backgrounds that detailed traditional Russian architecture. Uncle Drosselmeyer (Vladimir Troshchenko) greets the audience with a brief introduction of characters we saw during first half of the performance. Short dances with colorful costumes give you a sneak peak at the production's talent. Drosselmeyer introduces us to Masha (Ganna Dorosh) and Fritz, his niece and nephew, and their family and friends as a Christmas party comes to life with more elegant backdrops and longer solos. After intermission, the show opens in the Land of Peace and Harmony which was, quite honestly, one of the prettiest places I've seen! Most of the kids around me all gasped in unison as animals came to life and exotic dancing couples (an audience favorite being the Russians, Natalia Duminika and Titus Popescu) gave gleeful, brief performances for the now-dreaming Masha and her Nutcracker Prince (Makxym Chepyk).

When performed by masters like these, ballet seems effortless, elegant, and easy. There wasn't a ballerina or danseur who didn't seem completely at ease and at home on the stage. Traditional ballet dances were interspersed with casual acting, animated gesturing (only the good kind), and lovely facial expressions. Even the wee ones, who were unspeakably adorable in tiny tutus, seemed to be having a fun time. The audience loved it all.

The leaps were high, and often suspended in time (or so it seemed). The tutus were precious and glittery and glamorous. The dresses on the characters during the house party were full of ruffles and petticoats all matched in vibrant color schemes. Gloves were long and elegant, vests were velvet with great detailing, and the villianous mouse king was grey and ugly yet somehow charming (although the little mice soldiers probably nabbed the 'charmers' description due to their cuteness).

Being in the audience felt luxurious. It was a respite from gift budgets and creative leftover planning. For two short acts (the overall performance was under two hours) you actually were taken away to a land of sugar plum fairies, exotic dancers, doves, rainbows, and a Snow Forest complete with a royally Russian King, Queen and Prince, of course. Ballerinas took center stage and spun 'til you got dizzy watching them. Danseurs kicked high and lept in circles around the stage 'til there was clapping and cheering coming from the crowd.

It was a perfect event to start out a season of joy and goodwill, fantasy and legend, faith and beauty. Although this year's performances are over, I recommend putting it on your "must see" list for next year. And if you feel like getting all dressed up and elegant to go see it, by all means do! You'll be in great company with the children and adult caregivers who used the chills of a Minnesota winter to their advantage sporting long dresses, coats, and more formal attire in bright reds and classic plaids. Who knew we could get all fancy like that?

This production is featured in the Daily Planet's complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you'll know who's been naughty and who's been nice.

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612-339-7007

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    Betsy Gabler

    Betsy Gabler is a full-time marketing manager for a local not-for-profit, a part-time graphic designer, and consults about small business social media and development strategies. She has a M.S. from the U of MN in visual communication and design. Being a supportive aunt is her favorite thing in life.