Season of 'Nutcracker,' 'Messiah' starts early
Holiday productions feature new collaborations, full texts, even a 'Land of Peace and Harmony'
In the Moscow Ballet version of "The Nutcracker," a “Dove of Peace” leads the young girl at the heart of the story and her Nutcracker-turned-Prince to the "Kingdom of Love and Harmony." (Moscow Ballet / November 17, 2012)
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And, just as department stores break out the Christmas decorations earlier and earlier, some performing arts organizations get into the swing before Thanksgiving. A couple of stage versions of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," for example, are already up and running, with more on the way.
Handel's evergreen oratorio "Messiah" and Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet "The Nutcracker" will be here in abundance before you know it, along with all sorts of seasonal concerts by any number of ensembles, starting next weekend with a holiday program by the Canadian Tenors.
Here is just a sampling of performances that promise to add to the cheer during the closing weeks of 2012.
Although not a huge success at its premiere 120 years ago, "The Nutcracker" quickly became one of the most popular ballets ever produced. With an enchanting story about a young girl's Christmas Eve dream and a richly tuneful score by Tchaikovsky, the work is an unshakable staple of the holiday season.
Two productions due in Baltimore this year stand out.
One is the result of a first-time collaboration involving four of the city's finest institutions — the Baltimore School for the Arts, providing the dancers; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, providing the musicians; the Maryland Institute College of Art, producing the scenery; and the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, providing the venue.
"For the performing arts in this country to move forward, collaborating is absolutely essential, and this has been a fantastic collaboration, with everyone working very closely together," said Barry Hughson, executive director of Boston Ballet and choreographer for this "Nutcracker."
It is too soon to know if this group venture will be attempted again. "We need the people of Baltimore to turn out," Hughson said. "If we can fill the theater, I don't see any reason why we can't continue it into the future."
Hughson credits the lasting popularity of "Nutcracker" to its "very simple, accessible story. A lot of companies have felt the need to change or modernize it. My 'Nutcracker' stays very true to the original. It's a classic version of a classic," he said.
Another classic version — with a twist or two — will be presented by the Moscow Ballet at the Hippodrome. The dance company is celebrating its 20th anniversary of touring North America with what it calls the "Great Russian Nutcracker," originally choreographed by Stanislav Vlasov.
"This is a fairly traditional approach," said Lee Mills, the Peabody Institute alum who will conduct the performances, "but instead of the scene shifting to 'The Land of Sweets' in the second act, it's 'The Land of Peace and Harmony.' It's all about exploring other nationalities and showing how everyone can be happy together."
In the Moscow Ballet version, a "Dove of Peace" leads the young girl at the heart of the story and her Nutcracker-turned-Prince to that brotherly kingdom. The dove has previously been portrayed by a single dancer. This year, a new costume will be unveiled; it requires two dancers and will give the dove a 20-foot wing span.
Also new to the production this year is ballerina Olga Kifyak, who has a slew of international ballet medals to her credit. She joins a cast of 40 dancers.
Moscow Ballet, which is performing the "Great Russian Nutcracker" in 73 cities this season, typically dances to a taped soundtrack. But Baltimore is an exception; the Concert Artists of Baltimore will be in the pit to perform Tchaikovsky's famous music.
"The score is incredible," Mills said. "In terms of beauty alone, I don't think there are very many scores that can match this."
Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker: Dec. 14-15 at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. 410-547-7328, ticketmaster.com
Collaborative Nutcracker: Dec. 21-22 at Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. 410-547-7328, ticketmaster.com