Some Christmas traditions are immutable. You couldn’t imagine the holiday without pines, presents, or ham. You must watch at least 16 disjointed minutes of A Christmas Story during the day. It is also required by law that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” blare nonstop out of any device capable of producing sound throughout the preceding month.
To many, no Christmas tradition is so requisite as The Nutcracker. The 1892 ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score tells the story of Clara Stahlbaum, a young girl who must endure watching her beloved toy break and then a giant melee between rats and tin soldiers. She is rewarded for her troubles with exotic treats and dances before waking from her dream. It is one of Russia’s great masterpieces.
Who better to treat America to the ballet we care most for than the Moscow Ballet? They certainly feel that way, so every Christmas season their three companies of 36 dancers perform live at more than 140 cities throughout the continent. The Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker is the definitive depiction of The Nutcracker. If you take your family to any other, you might as well burn the ham while you’re at it.
“The Russians have cherished ballet since the time of Catherine the Great,” said Sally Michael Keyes, director of public relations for Moscow Ballet North American Tours. “Children as young as six years old audition to go to ballet school, where they receive all of their education until they’re ready to audition for a company around the age of 17. Russia’s Vaganova method of ballet is highly focused and standardized, and it teaches a certain grace and style that no other country’s dancers can imitate.
“Each company arrives in America for rehearsal in the late fall. They then perform Great Russian Nutcracker almost daily over two months. It’s taxing, but these are peak athletes accustomed to dancing six days a week. They often celebrate after a performance by going out dancing!
“Great Russian Nutcracker’s visuals are astonishing. All of the production’s colorful scenes are set against rich backdrops that appear three-dimensional. In act one Uncle Drosselmeyer brings in five foot tall Matryoshka dolls, out of which jump Moorish dancers. The show features a traditional Russian troika sleigh, giant puppets, a peacock that opens its tail eight feet wide, and the Dove of Peace which opens act two by flying across the stage on ten foot wings. It takes two dancers to create the effect! Still, all of the visuals are faithful to the time in which The Nutcracker premiered. Our producers are devoted to preserving authenticity.
“We value the show’s grounding in tradition. It has stayed a Christmas classic for well over a century because Tchaikovsky’s music is gorgeous and the dancers’ performance is thrilling. More than anything else, The Nutcracker endures because it is a beautiful nostalgia passed down through families.”
The Moscow Ballet had planned to perform live in Fargo this year, although due to circumstances that beg no explanation they will now instead stream their 2020 performance. You may learn more on nutcracker.com.
By David Scheller