News Column

Moscow Ballet blends devotion to tradition with commitment to keeping 'Nutcracker' fresh

November 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 29--If hearing just a few bars of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's music for "The Nutcracker Suite" is enough to send holiday anticipation twirling around in your head, you're not alone.

Once those woodwind chords and sweeping strings get memories of Christmases past swirling around your mind like shimmering tulle, it's hard to get any work done. Just ask the performers who are coming to town to do the actual dancing.

"We almost can't wait to start," said Viktor Shcherbakov, principal dancer with Moscow Ballet and one of the stars of "The Great Russian Nutcracker."

Moscow Ballet will present the Christmas season classic twice -- at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday -- at the Paramount Theater. Shcherbakov, who plays the Nutcracker Prince, points to the music's enchantment factor as part of the ballet's enduring hold on hearts and imaginations.

"First of all, it's Tchaikovsky," Shcherbakov said. "It's that simple. He kind of paid attention to every detail. He wanted to be as precise as possible. Even after forty performances, it's always a pleasure to dance to this music."

Tradition is part of the ballet's timeless appeal, but producer Akiva Talmi said it's also important to keep familiarity from dimming its dazzle. He mentioned several new elements in this year's production that audience members can look out for.

"Drosselmeyer's character is being developed into the biggest character so far," Talmi said. Keep an eye out for the toymaker and inventor's magic work table, which is covered with a bird, a marionette and other creations.

When heroine Masha's father scurries into the room loaded down with Christmas presents, keep an eye on the way his shaky stack of gifts behaves. "It's kind of a comedy," Talmi said. A street scene's hurdy-gurdy, a hand organ with a hefty speaker, is another attention-getting prop.

"And all of the costumes are brand new," Talmi said, adding that this year's designs come from the Kirov Ballet's workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia. "It's over the top, shall we say."

Also new this year is a director's gentle touch to help ground an evening of fanciful events in just enough reality. That's James Warwick's job.

The Broadway director, originally from England, has been helping the dancers hone their acting skills. That's because mastering exquisite choreography is only part of the equation when one is telling the story of inanimate Christmas presents coming to life.

Warwick praised Talmi for "having the sort of idea that you're embuing 'The Nutcracker' with a human quality" and for being committed to keeping "The Great Russian Nutcracker" fresh.

"Akiva asked me to come in and talk to the dancers about what their characters might be doing at any given time," Warwick said. He added with a chuckle, "The dancers look at me as if I'm from outer space. But it's important for people to know who their characters are."

It's important for audience members, too. Failing to establish a realistic relationship between young Masha and Drosselmeyer, for instance, can make the older, rather eccentric toymaker come off as creepy.

"It's important to have that human quality people can identify with," said Warwick. "Otherwise, it's just puppets."

Moscow Ballet: The Great Russian Nutcracker

3 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Paramount Theater

$102 VIP, $68, $48, $37.50 and $27.50

www.nutcracker.com

www.theparamount.net

979-1333

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(c)2013 The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.)

Visit The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.) at www2.dailyprogress.com

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