Editor’s Note: The author of this review, choreographer and dancer Ashley Fargnoli,has performed in American productions of THE NUTCRACKER since the age of seven. Her review assumes a familiarity with ballet in general and THE NUTCRACKER in specific. Read more about Fargnoli’s dance career and current human rights work as a dance therapist.
A taste of Russian ballet in Chicago
Chicago was one of the first stops onthe Russian Grand Ballet’s North American tour where they presented their staging of the holiday classic, The Nutcracker on November 30 at the Harris Theater. The performance was directed by Constantine Pinchuk, with choreography by V.I Vainonen and “lovingly retouched” by ballet master Andrey Litvinov, who also happened to play Drosselmeyer.
The prologue opened with a very energetic trio of dancers, a departure from many other versions of The Nutcrackerwhich tend to ease the audience into the holiday party at the Stahlbaum’s house.Masha (Clara) was danced by the exquisite Antonina Radivskaya, who rightfully emerged as the star of the performance.
Act I followed the traditional story;the arrival of guests at the party, the dance of the Columbine and Harlequin, and the infamous Fritz who mischievously breaks the Nutcracker, played by Denis Chernyak. One major difference was that the Nutcracker was given to Masha by Drosselmeyer already in his human form, whereas most Nutcrackers are represented as a doll at this point in the ballet. To this writer, this difference seemed to slightly diminish the magic of the Nutcracker transforming into his life-size form during the battle scene, a time when the mice and soldiers also come to life and the Christmas tree grows.
Fast forward to the end of Act II; the audience sees Drosselmeyer return the Nutcracker to Masha as a doll, a somewhat confusing twist that made this audience member and probably many more wonder if even the Stahlbaum’s party was all a dream.
The Battle scene was danced by younger dancers whose saut de chats and synchronized fighting movements added dynamism to the first act. These dancers supported the Nutcracker’s battle with the menacing Mouse King, played by Oleksii Chorych, who also happened to play Masha’s brother, Fritz. During the transition into the snow scene, the audience has the opportunity to witness the strong technique of Radievskaya and her prince, danced by Dmitry Vasilyev.
As the corps de ballet emerged as snowflakes, this writer could not help but notice right away the limitations of the corps, most notably in the varying facial expressions, which at times seemed borderline cold, angry, and somewhat disinterested. The inconsistent technique among the dancers in the corps also became a distraction, with some dancers appearing to struggle to get fully en pointe or to straighten their legs.
Act II had redeeming moments, mostly due to the strength of the principal dancers, including Ruslana Lopatina whose fiery presence added just the right touch to the Spanish dance (Chocolate). Another highlight ofAct II was the Marzipan dance, danced by Miku Suzuky, whose lightness, gentle smile and grace was welcomed and mirrored the weightlessness of Tchaikovsky’s dance of the flutes section.
The company dealt with the dance of the Polichinelles much differently than most American companies. Instead of the humorous and playful Mother Ginger character and her polichinelle children, all of the soloists from Act II entered the stage together fora dance that did not seem to fully capture the energy and playfulness of the music.It should be noted however that Mother Ginger is often an American tradition that many European companies have omitted.
Most of the female corps de ballet from the snow scene returned to the stage for the Dance of the Flowers, accompanied by the male members of the corps who were wearing baroque style English wigs. The stage presence of the women was much brighter and more consistent among the dancers, however the lack of unified technique remained a challenge and a distraction.
The pas de deux between Masha and her Prince was the gem of the production. Radievskaya’s petite but powerful presence was showcased in the coda through a clean petit allegro and series of fouettes.
Harris Theater Hosts Classic from Another Culture
In a city such as Chicago, where performances of The Nutcracker are plentiful, including performances by the Joffrey Ballet, Ballet Chicago, Ruth Page’s Civic Ballet, to name a few, one wonders if another performance is needed, especially from a company that may be outshined by Chicago’s strong ballet companies. Nonetheless, it is always interesting to see how companies from around the world represent this traditional holiday classic.
For additional information about upcoming tour dates and cities, please visit The Russian Grand Ballet Website.
About the Author:
Ashley Fargnoli is a dancer, choreographer, and dance/movement therapist She honed her choreographic skills at Jacob’s Pillow's Choreographers Lab and has implemented numerous dance projects around the world, including in the Balkans with the goal of ethnic reconciliation. She additionally trained in ballet and modern dance at the American Ballet Theater, Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet., and in France with the Ballet de Lorraine (Nancy), at the Conservatoire de Nantes and also performed with the National Ballet in Sarajevo. When not performing or choreographing, Ashley works with refugees as a dance/movement therapist.
Photo Credits: Grace DuVal
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