- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

The Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow is back in Washington for the second time this year. Again it has brought a revision of a 19th-century classic, and this time it is what else? "The Nutcracker."
All three full-length ballets the company has danced here this year have been staged by the same choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich. His "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere" share with his idiosyncratic "Nutcracker" an emphasis on spectacular heavy scenery, an absence of mime, and choreography that is full of standard steps and heavy on repeated movement motifs.
Mr. Grigorovich has a concept of "Nutcracker" that is at odds with most interpretations. As the program notes point out, "There is nothing touching or sweet about his 'Nutcracker.'"
Indeed. The first act is highly stylized, with the party guests looking like caricatures out of Honore Daumier, fatuous and self-satisfied, while the children (performed by grown-up members of the company, with women playing the parts of both little girls and little boys) clearly are meant to be without individuality.
To emphasize that this is not a "Nutcracker" aimed at children, Mr. Grigorovich has a witch and a devil as part of the first act entertainment who would be at home in Las Vegas.
The Bolshoi's version is long on dancing yards and yards of it, for the most part a stringing out of basic, spectacular steps performed, as always by this company, spectacularly. The dancers take to the air in soaring split leaps and barrel turns and fill the stage with grand gestures.
When the choreography turns inventive, it often seems fussy. The ballet begins with a sequence of dancers scurrying across the stage in simple traveling steps: some with legs raised in exaggerated, goose-step fashion, others walking with fast, mincing little steps, some on half toe, some on pointe.
Enter Herr Drosselmeier, the mysterious character who brings the nutcracker doll to the little heroine. Whatever the intent, he comes across as a stock character rather than the charismatic, intriguing, part-malevolent, part-benevolent person he appears in other productions.
What is puzzling about Mr. Grigorovich's approach is that he has spent most of his career producing full-length story ballets but he eliminates mime and fails to compensate by creating movement that expresses the emotion of his stories.
As a result, this "Nutcracker" is a cool affair, a display of high-flying steps set in a story that impresses with its pageantry but does not touch the heart.
This effect is reinforced by the grandiose designs of Simon Virsaladze, who has given the first scene a dark, somewhat claustrophobic ambience. (This may be in part because the scenery was designed for the much larger Bolshoi stage.) The large scale of his scenery works better in the snow scene but substitutes lavishness for poetry in the finale.
As the story progresses from an unexceptional treatment of the battle with the Mouse King to the section where Marie and her Nutcracker Prince are entertained by colorful foreign dancers, the two principals exit, the stage is bare, and the divertissements are danced for us, the audience, instead.
The choreography is more inventive in this section and is performed with great aplomb. Denis Medvedev, who was outstanding last spring as the Golden Idol in "La Bayadere," showed up here as a Chinese dancer.
Few of the company's principal dancers who were here last spring made the trip this time; none of the four prima ballerinas did.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a lean dancer with an impressive split leap who made a strong impression in "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere" last June, was the Nutcracker Prince at the opening night here on Wednesday. Mr. Grigorovich has piled on nonstop dancing for that role, originally created for Vladimir Vasiliev. Mr. Tsiskaridze sped through his barrel leaps and multiple pirouettes with easy dispatch.
His partner was Marianna Ryzhkina, who danced with soft, airy grace as Marie. Vladimir Moiseev gave an antic performance as Herr Drosselmeier, while little Ksenia Ptchelkina made a bright impression as the toy nutcracker doll.
Although the Bolshoi seems caught in a time warp, at least in the ballets it has brought here, its performing skills are still superb. The dancers have a cohesiveness of style, and their energy is prodigious.
Musically, the Bolshoi leaves much to be desired. There is something stolid about its phrasing, reflecting the lack of nuance in the choreography. With its tremendous resources of training and size, the company's challenge is to retain what makes it the Bolshoi while finding choreography that is more meaningful and musically challenging.

WHAT: Bolshoi Ballet in "The Nutcracker"
WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

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