Dance Russian Nutcracker
By Montague Gammon III

The Great Russian Nutcracker comes to Hampton Roads sporting a distinctly regional accent.
The annual visit of the Moscow Ballet to the Sandler Center (Nov. 29), with their unique version of the Tchaikovsky Christmas classic, uses local dancers, 7-16 years old, in a host of smaller roles.

Both Susan Boyette – director of The Conservatory of Dance in Virginia Beach, who has served as Local Dance Coordinator for Moscow Ballet since 1999, as well as Svetlana Todinova, Moscow Ballet soloist and their Audition Director – make the point that performing with a world class, professional company like the Moscow Ballet is a rare and valuable opportunity for ballet students.

Though Moscow Ballet’s “Dance with Us” program can use as many as 60 youngsters, the local 2013 contingent numbers just 28. (Boyette notes that since fewer dancers are taking part, each gets more stage time, so that all the roles of Party Children, Mice, Snowflakes and Snow Maidens are covered.)

In weekly Friday rehearsals, “for many hours,” Boyette says, she works with students from some ten different studios (this year), from all over Greater Hampton Roads, “to make it look like they have alway been a group.” In testament to the dedication of the student performers and of their parents, two dancers travel from Williamsburg, and two others from the Eastern Shore.

“My job is to maintain the integrity of the choreography,” she says, “which is a very big job.” That job began with the October 8 auditions, and continues past the curtain calls.

It’s a job demanding both artistic and logistical efforts. Throughout the show Boyette will be backstage making sure that her charges are in the right places at the right times, a task for which she has learned to speak Russian, since many of the Moscow Ballet cast and crew speak no English.

The story Nutcracker tells has been captivating audiences since it premiered in St. Petersburg, in December of 1892. At a Christmas Eve party, young Masha (or Clara or Marie, in other versions) receives from a mysterious sort of godfather named Uncle Drosselmeyer a large wooden nutcracker in the form of a toy imperial soldier. After some conflict with her envious younger brother, Masha falls asleep.

At midnight she either wakens to a magical world of giant threatening mice and an heroic, human sized Nutcracker come to life to defend her, or dreams it. Her Nutcracker turns into that ever popular fairy tale character a Handsome Price, and the two of them go to “the ‘Land of Peace and Harmony,’ where all creatures live in accord with each other,” according to Moscow Ballet’s web site.

That multi-cultural, idyllic spot replaces the Land of the Sweets, ruled by the benevolent Sugar Plum Fairy, found in the original and most other productions. Masha and her Nutcracker Prince are welcomed by the Dove of Peace, a two-dancer, 20-foot-wingspan creature new for the 2013 tour that is one of the several spectacular effects unique to the Moscow Ballet production. Among the others are a Christmas tree that grows to giant size on stage, and 3 dimensional scenery described as “an homage to Henri Rousseau jungle paintings.”
Boyette, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old, including work at the internationally acclaimed American troupe, the Joffrey Ballet, used the word “spectacular” to describe the dancing at least three times in a brief conversation about the Great Russian Nutcracker. Her comments on the professional dancers also involved the phrase “defy gravity.”

She says “Nutcracker is a tradition … a lot of young girls dream of being Masha … [boys] may want to be the Nutcracker Prince … [it is] a fantasy world that is just another part of Christmas … a visual gift… some people figure the Holiday is not complete unless they see Nutcracker.”

The Great Russian Nutcracker
Moscow Ballet
Nov. 29
Sandler Center for the Performing Arts
201 Market Street, Virginia Beach