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Review: Moscow Ballet enlivens 'The Great Russian Nutcracker'

December 16, 2013|By Lewis Segal
  • Karyna Shatkovska and Vladimir Tkachenko perform for Moscow Ballet.
Karyna Shatkovska and Vladimir Tkachenko perform for Moscow Ballet. (Evan Castor )

Lively and resourceful, with an unusual array of bright, painted backdrops adding to the Christmas cheer, "The Great Russian Nutcracker" came to the Wiltern Theatre on Sunday performed by the Moscow Ballet.

Choreographed in 2003 by Anatoly Emelianov, this version used adults in the children’s roles and kept a small cadre of soloists constantly dancing. In the last act, for example, the divertissement couples (Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, etc.) took over what is normally the Mother Ginger music and lent their virtuosity to the "Waltz of the Flowers" as well.

GUIDE: Los Angeles area 'Nutcracker' performances

In that corps showpiece, and in the Snowflakes ensemble, Emelianov's bland classicism wasn’t equal to the moments when Tchaikovsky’s music (recorded and often deafening) became increasingly passionate. And in the last act, some of his divertissement duets found his males and females working at cross-purposes. But most of his choreography neatly dovetailed "Nutcracker" traditions with the technical capabilities of contemporary dancers.

What’s more, using music that is usually wasted, he created a sweet "Dove of Peace" duet at the beginning of Act 2 in which Marina Yegorova and Dmitry Vasyliev -- each outfitted with one enormous wing -- linked up gymnastically for artful avian imagery. Yes, the concept sounds like Soviet-style kitsch, but these artists made the result disarmingly poetic.

As Masha (named Clara in most American stagings), Karyna Shatkovska never proved remotely believable as a young child but attended to her challenging ballerina duties with faultless mastery of the steps and a floating jump. Vladimir Tkachenko partnered her ably in the title role and occasionally contributed bravura expertise.

Emelianov made Drosselmeyer (normally a mime assignment) a recurring presence in the dances, which gave Olexy Burakov many chances to display his fleet authority. But nobody outdanced Sergi Kotov as Fritz and the Chinese male. Virtually every passage confirmed his brilliance.

On Sunday evening, the company offered a curtain-raiser: Mikhail Fokine’s "The Dying Swan," executed by Yegorova with steely accuracy but no sense of drama whatsoever. But locally based, award-winning teen violinist Annelle Gregory compensated with an expressive account of the Saint-Saëns score.

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