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Choosing the Best Nutcracker

Published: January 1, 2014 (Issue # 1792)



  • Mikhail Shemyakins gothic-tinged version of The Nutcracker is popular with young and old alike.
    Photo: Natasha Razina / For SPT

  • The traditional performance by Vasily Vainonen is danced by students from the Vaganova Academy.
    Photo: V. Baranovsky / For SPT

Just as nature has its seasons, so do the arts. In Russia, the wintry period spanning the Western and Orthodox Christmas is known as Nutcracker Season and justly so.

Inspired by the E. T. A. Hoffmann story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the famed ballet tells a magical love story that develops around Christmas between a poetically-inclined girl and a scary-looking Nutcracker who goes to battle with the dangerous Mouse King. The Hoffmann novella appealed to Marius Petipa, the French choreographer who in the late-19th century defined Russian classical ballet. In 1891, Petipa commissioned composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky to create a score for a show based on the tale and the story of The Nutcracker, a title synonymous with Russian classical ballet, began.

For more than a century, Hoffmanns has reigned supreme on Russian stages every December.

Indeed, December is usually the most exciting and most challenging month at the Vaganova Ballet Academy as the best students have earned a chance to perform on the stage of the Mariinsky Theater in The Nutcracker during the Christmas and the New Year holidays. In the darkest and often the coldest weeks of the year, rehearsals go full steam ahead in the Academys spacious and slightly chilly studios.

Everyone at the school is always excited about The Nutcracker, and it is different every year because the school has a constant flow of new talent making the ballet their own. These shows almost always bring surprises, with the students displaying talent that neither their ballet masters nor the dancers themselves would ever expect.

Tchaikovskys Nutcracker is one of the most beautiful pieces of ballet music ever written yet it has proved a tough nut for quite a few choreographers. For starters, ballet legend Petipa simply gave up and left the work to Lev Ivanov in 1892. His more courageous descendants, including Vasily Vainonen, Fyodor Lopukhov and Maurice Bejart, all had a go at staging the ballet.

Vainonens version an adaptation of Ivanovs work is the one performed by the majority of Russian companies, including the Vaganova performances at the Mariinsky and the shows of the Russian Ballet Theater, a dance company that performs the ballet at the Hermitage Theater.

However, the Mikhailovsky Theater, which rivals the Mariinsky as another former Imperial ballet theater, prefers a newer version credited to the contemporary St. Petersburg choreographer Nikolai Boyarchikov. While rooted in the traditions forged by Petipa, Boyarchikovs work has its own choreographic language that appeals to the human soul and emphasizes the spiritual. Boyarchikov is an intellectual choreographer who thrives on metaphors and associations, while refraining from exploiting clichés. There is always a humane message in his ballets and in his version of The Nutcracker, it is the simple truth that kindness turns an individual into a human being.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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