Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker
Moscow Ballet Great Russian Nutcracker Variations in Act II. Photo courtesy of Moscow Ballet.
Russia’s finest ballet dancers will glide alongside some of the most promising talent to don a pair of pointe shoes or dance slippers.
In what has become a holiday tradition that joins the graceful arts of East and West, the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker returns Dec. 28 to the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers. The two performances will cap months of collaboration between the acclaimed dance company and studio directors in Southwest Florida. “It’s kind of idealistic but this is a very rarified art form,” says Akiva Talmi, the show’s producer. “It’s important for young children, who we believe, if introduced to the highest level of this art form, will fall in love with it and have a richer life.”
The Russian company’s visit also brings a special opportunity to Southwest Florida―rigorous auditions and practices for kids hoping to participate in the performance. “It’s a really great experience for girls to be involved in,” says Lara Demetriades, director of the Angelic Academy of Dance, a Bonita Springs school. She is overseeing the selection of children chosen to perform small roles in the Nutcracker.
Talmi has worked on Nutcracker performances in the U.S. for 25 years, since the first Moscow Ballet productions took the stage in 1992. He says the performances have become a holiday tradition in so many cities because they offer a chance for Western audiences to see the original interpretation of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, with Lev Ivanov’s choreography. The show, therefore, is markedly different from the show most American viewers think of as the definitive version―the George Balanchine version he staged as artistic director for the New York Ballet in the 1950s.
There’s no “Land of Sweets,” but instead the “Land of Peace and Harmony,” an appropriate feature for a holiday performance tradition started shortly after the end of the Cold War. The show this season incorporates life-sized Matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls, and a Dove of Peace dance duo each bearing a wing that melds into a single 20-foot span. Moving backgrounds, a famous Moscow skyline and the fastest Russian troika sleigh make the show a spectacle, regardless of cultural touchstones. And the company, of course, presents its poetic ballet and the powerful music to energize the afternoon and evening performances.
Lara Demetriades’s dance studio has hosted auditions for the Nutcracker since 2008, she says, noting the auditions have been open to girls studying dance anywhere in Southwest Florida, who could commit to the rehearsal schedule. Demetriades says the Moscow Ballet and local dance instructors work to find a role for every child auditioning, from snowflake and mouse roles for some of the youngest dancers to snow maidens for more advanced dancers.
Russian dancer and audition director Alisa Bolotnikova, who has performed in such major productions as Don Quixote and The Arabian Nights, stresses there would be no muting of the choreography for young dancers. “They must be hard-working and attentive and they shouldn’t have fear of the stage,” she says of those chosen to perform.
Young dancers will have trained for months to learn stage routines. The bonus is time with Bolotnikova before the Dec. 28 show. On the big day, children arrive early and work through the two performances, efforts rewarded with lifetime memories, or a “big chance for American children,” Bolotnikova says, “to take part in a professional performance with professional dancers and wonderful costumes of [the] Moscow Ballet.”
And the producers say involvement of children adds its own magic. “Once we had a performance without children, the scene looked very empty and the performances weren't so wonderful,” Bolotnikova recalls. Kids dotting the stage, she says, makes for a “more powerful and colorful” production.
“It’s an education component we believe in,” adds Talmi, who through the years has racked up story after story of local kids discovering ballet and then pursuing careers in dance.
Demetriades says children involved in a world-class ballet, at the very least, get a picture with a professional dancer and an autograph. “The kids are always happy and excited,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
At a Glance
Great Russian Nutcracker
Performances 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Written by Jacob Ogles, a freelance writer and frequent contributor to TOTI Media.
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