PlayDC: Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian NUTCRACKER @ Lyric Opera House
BYT at large | Dec 19, 2011 | 4:00PM |

review by: Dana Mahr

There’s something about tradition that makes the holidays bright. Although ballet may not be an interest for many in this up and coming generation, the story of The Nutcracker is forever a classic and performed by Moscow’s Ballet makes it only that much better.

The scene was absolutely perfect: there was a nice chill in the air as spectators walked into the Lyric Opera House’s Modell Performing Arts Center in Baltimore this past Saturday night. Everyone looked stunning in their finest clothes; finding their seats and waiting for the performance to begin.  The story is familiar, having been molded again and again by storytellers to fit their own scenarios; however, with the help of choreography by Stanislav Vlasov of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow’s Ballet managed to keep the story fairly close to the timeless classic we have all grown to love.

The story begins at the Staulbaum’s annual Christmas party. Guests are arriving on their toes as they glide across the stage, making their grand entrance into an even grander scene. The backdrop is beautifully decorated with a huge magnificent tree and images of majestic horses delight the walls. The party has started now and the dancing never stops, adults and children alike glide effortlessly from stage left to stage right, and back again. They dance in perfect unison in circles and in rows, re-imagining the dances typical of the late 19th century. Adult guests wore dark metallic hues of blue, purple, red and green, matching that of their dance partners; the children wore pastel sparkling dresses of pink while the little girls playing boys wore brown in the typical fashion.

Hiding behind the guise of a long dark cape and silver mask, Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives fashionably late and bearing gifts for all the children. Along with the typical toys, he presents two very special dancing dolls: a wind-up life-size ballerina dressed in emerald green, she enchants the party guests with her life-like elegance; and secondly, a nutcracker, (hey!) the size of a human man dressed in a blazing red coat. The nutcracker is the most impressive toy and a personal gift to niece and heroine, Masha. She loves her new toy and brother Fritz gets jealous of her good fortune, breaking the nutcracker. Alas, Uncle Drosselmeyer isn’t dressed like a wizard because it looks good–with a wave of his wand the nutcracker is healed and the festivities end. The partiers reluctantly glide back to their homes backstage and Masha is put to bed where her imagination takes flight in the mysteries of the dream world.

With the house empty of guests and everyone asleep, the evil Rat King makes his presence known in the shadows of little Masha’s bedroom as she literally dreams of sugar plum fairies. With no one else to defend the snoozing child, the nutcracker comes to life and battles the Rat King and his mice minions with his own army of toy soldiers. The fight is fierce, until the Rat King wounds the nutcracker with his sword and Masha ‘wakes’ to save the day. She scares off the evil rat and his minions, leaving a little girl, and her fully-grown wooden toy.

Mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer strolls in and with a wave of his wand the nutcracker is turned into a prince and soon he and the young girl are headed to the Snow Forest where they meet the Snow Queen and enjoy a lovely show of dancing snowflakes. From the forest the two travel to the Land of Peace and Harmony where emissaries from around the world dance for the couple. A Spanish duet, an impressive Arabian acrobatics dance, Chinese, French and Russian all individually showcasing their magnificent skills inherent to them from their region.  Lastly, they dance with flowers and angels, and then perform a Grand Pas de Deux until Masha is awoken. The morning has come and adventures with the prince nutcracker are over almost as quickly as they started.

The audience replied with a well-deserved standing ovation to the bows and curtsies of the cast on stage. Receiving the greatest applause of all was a tie between main characters Masha and the nutcracker, and the Arabian performers who inspired gasps of awe from a crowd who couldn’t stop clapping throughout their entire three-minute performance. Not a negative tone could be heard from the audience shuffling to out of the building. It was an exquisite performance that is to be expected from the Moscow Ballet who lived up to every bit of hype they have received. Bravo!