Theater Review


Kirov Ballet performs delightful version of ‘The Nutcracker’

By Laura Tate / Editor

The more than 200-year-old Kirov Ballet and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre performed the delightful 1934 choreographed version of “The Nutcracker,” under the artistic direction of Valery Gergiev and Yury Fateev, interim director of the ballet, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during a limited run last week.

Many Americans are familiar with the version of “The Nutcracker” that includes the story of the title character “Clara” receiving a toy nutcracker as a gift Christmas Eve and goes to sleep and dreams of a fantastic world in which The Nutcracker becomes a prince and, leading an army of toy soldiers come to life, defends Clara from an invading army of mice commanded by the Mouse King (she helps the Prince slay the Mouse King by throwing a slipper at him). The ensuing fantasy includes the famous snowflake dance, and other exotic dances, until she awakes Christmas morning.

In this Russian version, the Clara character is called “Masha” (performed last Wednesday evening by Evgenia Obraztsova) and there are no “polychenelles,” baby chicks that are herded by a Mother Ginger, and there is no Sugar Plum Fairy.

In fact, the ballet is quite short, but the exquisite set designs by Simon Virsaladze, choreography by Vasily Vainonen, fine dancing and music conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov are enough to make up for padding the story line with other characters.

While Obraztsova’s performance as Masha lacked any real emotion, in both the ability to express joy over receiving the nutcracker as a gift and in displaying any attraction toward the prince, her technique as a dancer was exquisite and much appreciated by the audience. Vladimir Shklyarov played The Nutcracker Prince and is also a fine dancer; however, much like his partner, he lacked the ability to display emotion as well. In fact, it was the costumes and the set design, as well as the music that were really the stars of the evening, although the choreography and performance of the Waltz of the Snowflakes was delightful, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers.

The ballet was originally commissioned by the Board of Imperial Theatres and choreographed by Marius Petipa, who wrote a scene plan for “The Nutcracker” in 1891. It was based on E.T. A Hoffman’s tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” adapted for children and turned into a “ballet-fĂ©erie” (ballet fairytale). Pytor Tchaikovsky soon took on the piece, but found it too limiting and soon expanded the stage drama into the now renowned symphonic ballet.

Lev Ivanov, the second ballet-master of the Mariinsky Theatre, staged the ballet in 1892, and his dance of the snowflakes was considered successful; however, it was Vasily Vainonen’s 1934 choreographed version that brought the ballet to its fully realized, fantasy-filled, colorful staging known today.

The Kirov Ballet has its own unique history. The company is soon to be called the Mariinsky Ballet, reverting back to its original moniker before it was named after martyred communist official Sergey Kirov, who was murdered in St. Petersburg in the 1930s (St. Petersburg was called Leningrad until perestroika took place in the late ’80s).

The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, named after Empress Maria Alexandranova, wife of Alexander II, is the oldest musical theatre in Russia. It opened Oct. 2, 1860 with a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar.” However, opera and ballet companies had performed in St. Petersburg as early as 1783 when Empress Catherine II issued an imperial decree establishing a Russian opera and ballet company in that city. Therefore, the Mariinksy Theatre is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year.

All future appearances of the Kirov Ballet in the U.S. (the last country to make the name change) will be under the name of Mariinsky Ballet.

It is unfortunate for local audiences that the ballet and orchestra’s appearance in the Los Angeles area was so short, but perhaps they will return again next year, or maybe even sooner with another ballet.