The Moscow Ballet opened its six-day run of "The Nutcracker" Tuesday evening at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre to an audience primed to see a truly Russian performance. While the audience was not disappointed with the flourish of talent (both Russian and local), the production values were less than glorious and at several points were almost ludicrous.
Although newly choreographed by one-time Bolshoi star Stanislav Vlasov, this production felt well-worn. Mr. Vlasov's inspiration was the 1934 Kirov's "Nutcracker," and the costumes and wigs looked as if they had been left in a closet since that production. And while Oleg Averyanov's backdrops were colorful, the only special effect was in the dancing.
For anyone who has made this ballet a holiday tradition, there are certain moments that are indelible: A shower of snowflakes at the end of the second act is one of them, and the Christmas tree that dwarfs the dancers is another. There is no snow in the "Russian Winter," and the Christmas tree was obscured by a scrim. However, the highlight of poor production judgment came when a metal office chair was placed on stage to support the young heroine. Certainly they could have borrowed a wooden chair from somewhere.
While there are faults with this ballet, Mr. Vlasov's "Nutcracker" does have its choreographic merits. He works in as integral dancers the children from Towson State University Children's Dance Division, giving them an opportunity to dance and furthering the flow of the ballet. (The mice are always irresistible.) He zooms in on the magician, Herr Drosselmeyer, making him Clara's protector and a connecting factor in the drama. He extends the role of Clara, giving her more to do than just watch everyone else dance, and he deletes the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Overall the dancing was what one could expect from the Russians, flashy and full of soul. Lilia Sabitova as Clara seemed a bit affected at first glance. Her hand gestures were too self-conscious, her head movements a tad overblown. Yet, by the second act she proved she was a capable and very strong dancer. Stanslav Petcho as her princely consort had the requisite good looks, clean lines and powerful leaps, and their grand pas de deux that climaxes the second act brought cheers.
For all its faults, it was the dancing that supported this production.