ALBANY — With so many versions of “The Nutcracker” gliding across local stages, the Moscow Ballet has had difficulty selling tickets to its productions at the Palace Theatre. But in recent years, the company has done better at the box office thanks to its strategic move of adding more local children to its cast. And while it gets more patrons in the seats, and the kids, needless to say, are adorable, the Moscow Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is not what it used to be.
As seen on Tuesday night, the cast has grown smaller as the company is split between two coasts now. And though the production values — the costumes and scenery — are colorful and beautiful, the overall show lacks spirit. The stage looks empty, even though this second-tier ensemble could fill it with vigor and enthusiasm. And some do, especially the Arabian/Dove of Peace dancers who startle the audience out of its slouching apathy with their daring and precise pas de deux.
Their efforts, late in the show, are not enough, however, and the Moscow Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a lackluster one.
Every dancer knows that it’s tedious this time of year as they all perform the same ballet over and over again for weeks. Most have little tricks to help them endure the marathon. Unfortunately, these Moscow dancers do not call up their reserves of holiday wonder, so how can an audience muster awe?
Most of the blame goes to the casting of Masha, the lead dancer and the Russian version of Clara. This is her coming-of-age story. On Christmas Eve, she discovers her womanhood in the arms of her beloved Nutcracker Prince after he saves her from an army of pesky rats. Though she swoons in his arms, this Masha, danced by Olga Kifyak, has no heart.
She can execute a series of double fouetté and flash a vaudevillian smile of innocence. But everything she does is robotic. Her blood runs frigid for her brave Prince.
The prince, as performed by Vladimir Tristan, works hard to make this Russian ice princess warm to his touch. As she twirls or tries to balance on one foot, he is most attentive, steadying her wobbles.
And during his solo in the grand pas de deux, he demonstrates a swift batterie that is impressive. His fleet feet go unnoticed by Masha who, with a plastered smile, chaînés across the floor, ignoring his longing glances.
As she is the center of attention, the first act party scene at the Stahlbaums’ house feels dreadfully boring. No one even notices the tree growing 40 feet.
Children lend excitement
The children, mostly from Malta Ballet, lend the scene some excitement as they themselves are obviously happy to be there. The children are especially enjoyable in the snow forest as they weave amongst the adult ballerinas — their arms fluttering like wafting snowflakes.
The children are also part of each divertissement in the second act. Positioned in the four corners, they help to fill up the large space. Still, most eyes fall on the central couples. And if it were not for the Arabian pair — Elena Petrachenko and Sergey Chumakov — this whole “Nutcracker” would be a bust.
They are completely in synch and in the moment with each other as she wraps her body around his and then slowly slides down it or as he lifts her with one arm above his head then launches her through space. She flies and gracefully lands in a split. They are a divine pairing in an otherwise wooden world.
One more complaint: There is no Mother Ginger in the Moscow Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” What is a “Nutcracker” without the big-skirted, big-hearted, beastly looking-woman with too many children? A sad one.