By Steve Sucato
Special to the Plain Dealer
As professional “Nutcracker” ballet productions go, there was little “great” about Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” Dec. 22 at Cleveland Music Hall. The choreography was oversimplified, the corps de ballet’s dancing was poor, and the gratuitous use of local child dancers in many scenes felt forced. However, the production was not without its charm and wow moments.
If one were looking for a kid-friendly “Nutcracker” production, this certainly would have qualified, especially in its treatment of the Uncle Drosselmeyer character. Instead of the mysterious and sometimes scary, eye-patch wearing magician found in many productions, Mikhail Mikhailov in the role was a friendly toymaker beloved by seemingly everyone and the pivotal figure in advancing the ballet’s somewhat unique storyline. Valentin Fedorov’s whimsical sets and giant animal stick puppets and Arthur Oliver’s colorful costumes brightened the stage and the mood of the production and several second act performances stood out.
The second of two shows the company performed Dec. 22 that featured a mixed cast of 40 professional dancers and 56 children ages 7 to 16 years old from several area dance studios, the ballet’s first act roughly followed E.T.A. Hoffmann’s familiar 1816 tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” There was the party scene at the Stahlbaum’s ornately decorated home in which we were introduced to several of the ballet’s main characters, including its young protagonist Masha (Clara, in most U.S. productions) Stahlbaum, the niece of Drosselmeyer. The role was danced exquisitely by veteran dancer Ekaterina Bortiakova.
Bortiakova’s technical prowess, especially in her footwork and turns, coupled with an endearing smile and girlish innocence, was one of only a few truly “great” performances in this year’s East Coast cast of the Moscow Ballet production. The production tours the U.S. annually with multiple casts.