Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker Act I – A Christmas Party
Tchaikovsky’s classic score for this Christmas story opens with a “Miniature Overture” during which magical Uncle Drosselmeyer prepares his life-sized Christmas gifts for niece Masha and nephew Fritz at Mayor Stahlbaum’s family home later that evening. The music sets the fanciful holiday mood by using upper registers of the orchestra exclusively as the curtain soon opens to reveal the iconic Moscow city skyline and guests arriving for the Christmas Eve Party. Masha, little brother Fritz, and mother and father Stahlbaum celebrate the holiday with friends and family, when beloved godfather Uncle Drosselmeyer, arrives with his magical gifts.
Uncle Drosselmeyer presides over a puppet show which foreshadows the events of the Nutcracker ballet and then produces a large bag of Christmas gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except Masha, who has yet to be presented a gift. Uncle Drosselmeyer uses a super-sized Matrushka Doll to unveil his life-sized Kissy, Harlequin and Moorish Dolls as presents for all to enjoy in wonderment. The festivities continue with the adults dancing the stately Russian Court dances, which the youngsters mimic. When the dances are finished, Masha approaches Uncle Drosselmeyer asking for her Christmas gift and he gives her a beautiful toy Nutcracker, in the traditional shape of a soldier. Masha is overjoyed, but her brother Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker. The party soon ends, guests make their way sleepily home and Masha falls asleep.
While the family is sleeping, Uncle Drosselmeyer repairs the Nutcracker Doll. As the clock strikes midnight, Masha hears the sound of mice scurrying in her bedroom. She wakes up and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. Perhaps Masha is still in a dream? The Christmas tree suddenly begins to grow to enormous size, filling the room and the Nutcracker Doll comes to life. He rises to defend Masha against the Mouse King who leads his mice into battle. Here Tchaikovsky continues the miniature effect of the Overture, setting the battle music again predominantly in the orchestra’s upper registers.
A conflict ensues, and when Masha helps the Nutcracker Doll by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King, the Nutcracker seizes his opportunity and defeats him. The mice retreat, taking their wounded leader with them. The Nutcracker is then transformed into a handsome Nutcracker Prince! Masha and her Nutcracker Prince travel to the Snow Forrest where traditional Russian folk figures, Ded Moroz (Father Christmas) and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) welcome Masha and her Nutcracker Prince and escort them to the Land of Peace and Harmony. The score conveys the wondrous effect of the journey by introducing a wordless children’s chorus.
Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker Act II – “Land of Peace and Harmony”
In Konstantin Ivanov’s original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker, Act II (1892) Masha and her Nutcracker Prince arrive in the “Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy” with all its Christmas candy and treats, but in Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker they arrive in the “Land of Peace and Harmony” where all creatures, animal and human, live in accord with each other. The act opens with a riveting performance of Moscow Ballet’s exclusive “Dove of Peace” in which 2 dancers balance and leverage with each other to form a soaring white bird with a 20 foot wingspan.
The “Dove of Peace” was inspired by performances of Stanislov Vlasov, former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and choreographer/ballet master of Moscow Ballet’s inaugural 1993 Great Russian Nutcracker , and partner Lilia Sabitova, People’s Artist of Russia. (See the video to the right and note the soaring bird images) The “Dove of Peace,” exclusive to the Great Russian Nutcracker , leads Masha and Nutcracker Prince into the Land of Peace and Harmony (traditionally known as the Land of Sweets). It was created by acclaimed dancers Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrachenko in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Great Russian Nutcracker. “Knockout male dancer…Sergey Chumakov…when partnering Elena Petrachenko…confers an unusual thrill upon the work’s many lifts” writes Alastair Macaulay, Chief Dance Critic, NY Times.
Unique to Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker, are many different backdrops. The peaceful ambiance of Act II is established by award-winning Russian designer Valentin Federov’s drops created with three-dimensional effects. One features a rainbow which symbolizes the road from Masha’s bedroom to the Land of Peace and Harmony. The next is an homage to Henri Rousseau’s famous jungle paintings – it is child-like in its style, warm and colorful and is where the Dove of Peace appears.
In the Land of Peace and Harmony emissaries (who bear a distinct resemblance to Masha’s dolls!) appear from around the world to welcome and honor Masha and her Prince on this peaceful Christmas night. Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, Russian, and French couples demonstrate the great dances and spirit of their country’s heritages. The dancers are accompanied by 10 foot tall , playful puppets which are also symbolic of that country’s unique attributes. The Spaniard’s Bull represents the gift of daring, the Arabian Elephants bring the gift of wisdom, the Chinese Dragon brings the gift of playfulness, the Balalaika playing Russian Bear bestows strength on Masha and the French Unicorn imparts imagination.
The final scene of the holiday Christmas celebration concludes with a lush Waltz of the Flowers featuring a full company of 8 men and 8 women. Finally Masha and the Nutcracker Prince express their gratitude for the lovely evening and party by dancing a Grand Pas de Deux of their own….The night is over, Masha awakens to find herself back in her own bedroom with the beloved Nutcracker Doll by her side.