‘Nutcracker’ ballet gets Russian touch


Who: Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown

Tickets: $27.50, $37.50, $67.50, $100; call 330-744-0264

By John Benson


When it comes to holiday productions, there are some story lines that are untouchable. What would “A Christmas Carol” be without a redemptive Scrooge? What would the message be if Mr. Potter proved victorious in “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

Such blasphemous fear doesn’t exist with organizers of the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” which returns to Youngstown for a Friday show at Powers Auditorium, sans a few familiar elements. Sure, Tchaikovsky’s score is intact, but what about the Sugar Plum Fairy?

“Our story is a little different,” said, Sally Michael Keyes. Moscow Ballet public-relations director. “Usually there’s a Sugar Plum Fairy and a Land of Sweets. In our version, we’ve changed that to a Dove of Peace, and she brings Masha — who is usually named Clara — into the Land of Peace and Harmony, as opposed to the Land of Sweets. The music is the same, and the flavor of the different countries is the same, but the setting and backdrop is different.”

The 17th annual touring production boasts principal artists Ekaterina Bortyakova as Masha, who is making her American debut on this tour, and Akzhol Mussokhanov as the Nutcracker Prince. There’s also amazingly detailed scenic design and gorgeous costumes by 40 top Russian artists. Story-wise, something else different is the addition of Russian fairy tale characters Father Christmas and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.

Authenticity is a big thing when considering the “Great Russian Nutcracker.” Keyes feels that similar to a British theater troupe performing Shakespeare, there is something special when the Moscow Ballet produces this Russian classic.

“The story, of course, was written in Germany, but the ballet was first performed in Russia at the Bolshoi Theatre and choreographed by Marius Petipa, known as the father of Russian ballet,” Keyes said. “From a worldwide perspective, the Russians are the original dancers, the original choreographers and Tchaikovsky’s music, he’s Russian. So one goes with the premise that they’ve been doing it for 150-some years, and they’re very good at it.

“With that in mind, we travel across Russia to find the best dancers to bring to this country to perform it. From our perspective, we’re bringing the finest dance quality to this production because they’re all Russia-trained dancers. We’re also bringing just a Russian cultural heritage.”

Granted, this infusion of Russian culture may seem foreign to avid fans of “The Nutcracker,” but Keyes is optimistic the Moscow Ballet’s version only adds to the production’s legend.

“We use the full score of Tchaikovsky’s; it’s all the same classic music,” Keyes said. “I think some of the newer versions of ‘The Nutcracker’ throw in a little rock or hip-hop or jazz. So if you’re a music lover and want to hear that music, that’s appealing. Something else in ‘The Nutcracker’ is the season. It personifies everything we love about the holidays: families getting together, celebrating, spectacular gifts, magic and falling in love.”

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