Since its Russian premiere in 1892, the music and imagery of the ballet “The Nutcracker” has become iconic. Although it’s been reworked and reinterpreted throughout the years, the fairy tale story and P.I. Tchaikovsky’s score, which remains one of the most recognizable of the late 19th century, is rarely tampered with.
Next week, the prestigious Moscow Ballet brings its lavish touring production of “The Nutcracker” to Spokane, a colorful and lively celebration of both the magic of the holidays and the majesty of Russian ballet.
The company’s version of “The Nutcracker,” which was first performed in 1993, closely follows the template of the original story – the night before Christmas, a young girl’s nutcracker comes to life and whisks her away to a fantastical world – but some of the features of the production are unique to this particular adaptation.
There are a few elements, especially in the ballet’s whimsical second act, that make the Moscow Ballet’s “Nutcracker” distinctive: Several Russian folk characters, including the Snow Maiden and Father Christmas, make appearances; the costumes and backdrops, designed to produce a 3-D illusion, were constructed in Russia; and a series of silk puppets, some of which stand 10 feet tall, were created by Russian puppeteer Valentin Fedorov.
Those are certainly unique touches, but each performance can be distinguished from the others in terms of its casting: Upon each tour stop, the company auditions young local dancers to fill out the show’s supporting cast to share the stage with the touring performers.
“We have a lot of parts for the kids – snowflakes for the little ones, and mice and snow maidens,” said Natalia Miroshnyk, the Moscow Ballet’s audition director. “It’s very exciting for them to be onstage with professional dancers, and even if they don’t go on to be professional dancers, it’s interesting.”
Miroshnyk has been with the Moscow Ballet for six years and will have traveled to 14 different cities auditioning children for “The Nutcracker” before the end of 2013. She’s been a ballerina since she was young, and she says that watching the young dancers blossom during their rehearsals is the most rewarding aspect of her job.
“They have to be focused and concentrate,” Miroshnyk said. “There’s a special atmosphere onstage when we’re performing, with the lights and the costumes. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun.”
Although many of the children she’s working with aren’t seasoned dancers, Miroshnyk says that she tries to treat them as if they are, and that even the minor roles require hard work and patience. “They have to stay in straight lines, know their parts and all the choreography,” she said. “I will help them, of course, but they have to know everything. It’s almost professional.”
Miroshnyk says that even though the “Nutcracker” fable is well-known in the States, it likely hasn’t been told this way before. “It will be something new for an American audience,” she said, “and I hope they will be excited about that.”