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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

Wednesday, Oct. 22


English teachers can expect to receive a few useful pointers today from Evgeny Kalashnikov, the British Council regional teacher, during the EFL Seminar this afternoon hosted by the British Book Center. The topic of todays seminar is Grammar Practice.


Young Petersburgers will get the chance to jumpstart their careers at Professional Growth, a job fair and forum featuring more than 40 major Russian and international companies vying for potential candidates for future positions. The forum not only is a chance to network but also to learn more about the modern business world and to understand what it takes to get the job you want.



Thursday, Oct. 23


AmChams Public Relations Committee meeting is scheduled to meet this morning at 9 a.m. in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center.


Sportsmen get their chance to stock up on all kinds of gear at the Hunting and Fishing 2014 exhibition starting today at Lenexpo. Everything from rods and reels to boats, motorcycles and equipment for underwater hunting will be on sale so that any avid outdoorsman can always be prepared.



Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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