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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

Thursday, Sept. 18


Get your nerd on at Boomfest, St. Petersburgs answer to the United States popular ComicCon. Starting today, this international festival of comics will take over venues throughout the city center and includes exhibitions of comics and illustrations, film screenings, competitions and the chance to meet the genres authors, artists and experts.



Friday, Sept. 19


SPIBAs newest addition to their Cultural Discoveries events is Handmade in Germany, an exhibition featuring unique handmade objects of a significantly higher quality than mass-produced items. The work of over 100 German manufacturers will be displayed during the event, which opens today in the Lutheran Church of Saint Peter and Paul on Nevsky Prospekt and runs through Sept. 28.



Saturday, Sept. 20


Starting on Sept. 18 and ending tomorrow is the Extreme Fantasy Wakeboarding Festival in Sunpark by Sredny Suzdalskoye lake in the Ozerki region of the city.


Those after something more laid back can instead head to Jazz and Wine night at TerraVino with legendary jazz guitarist Ildar Kazahanov. 12/14 Admiralteyskaya Emb.



Sunday, Sept. 21


Learn more about African culture and get some exercise during todays Djembe and Vuvuzela, a bike ride starting in Palace Square that includes several stops where riders can listen to the music of Africa or watch short films about the continent. The riders plan to set off at 4 p.m. and all you need to join is a set of wheels.



Monday, Sept. 22


Do you love puppetry? If so, then be sure to go to BTK-Fest, a five-day festival that starts on Sept. 19 celebrating the art. Contemporaries from France, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries will join Russian artists to put on theatrical performances involving a variety of themes, materials and eras. Workshops and meetings are also scheduled for a chance to discuss the artistic medium in further depth.



Tuesday, Sept. 23


Marina Suhih, Director of the External Communications Department at Rostelecom North-West, and Yana Donskaya, HR Director for Northern Capital Gateway are just some of the confirmed participants of todays round table discussion on Interaction with Trade Unions being hosted by SPIBA. Confirm your attendance with SPIBA by Sept. 22.


Kino Expo 2014, an international film industry convention, will be at LenExpo from today until Sept. 26. The third largest exhibition of film equipment in the world, the expo focuses on not only Russia but former Soviet republics as well.



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