Bakhtiar Bakhtiarov Cleveland’s Nutcracker

 

This Christmas story seemed to have swept the world like a wildfire. First staged 125 years ago at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater, the enchanting ballet production of the Nutcracker conquered the best stages of the world. Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale became the calling card of the Russian ballet school.

But not its icon.

Great names are associated with this “symphony of childhood”, as the composer’s contemporaries called this ballet: such choreographers as Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorsky, Rudolf Nureyev, George Balanchine, John Neumeier, Maurice Bejart, Alexei Ratmansky, Valentin Elizariev … a kaleidoscope of various interpretation …  It seems almost impossible to find yet another way of bringing to life the uncomplicated plot of this fairy tale, put to rather complex music.

As it turns out, it is possible.  It only requires talent, diligence and, above all, boundless love for the ballet.

 

I was quite skeptical when going to the premiere of yet another version of The Nutcracker in my life. I do remember many of them, including those that I was turning into video recorded performances. Grandiose, multi-million dollar sets and costumes could hardly amaze me.  Moreover, expectations of a budget version were in the air, although the performance was being carried out by a troupe boldly named Cleveland Ballet.

My wonderment began as soon as I entered the Hanna Theater. Stanislavsky was right: the first impression is the brightest – it grabs you, holds you and will not let you go. Already in the foyer, I was plunged into an atmosphere of fabulous unreality, almost like at the Theater on Taganka, where Lyubimov also liked to start performances in the foyer. Here, I should mention the carefully thought out atmosphere. Singing of a children’s choir dressed as angels (Olga’s Music Studio guided by Olga Druzhinina), guards in blue uniforms wearing tall bearskin busby hats (The Cleveland Grays), the improvised exhibit of Nutcrackers … And, of course, the fairy-tale worthy grandparent-like ushers handing out the lavish programs dedicated to the performance… All this, multiplied by the true excitement in the eyes of young spectators and their parents, immediately inspired respect for the serious people who cleverly thought out the start of theatrical action even before entering the hall.

And the hall was full. I looked at hundreds of excited boys and girls and thought to myself with disappointment that this will likely be just another failed attempt at theater, with the usual, irrepressible running around in the aisles and chaos.

And once again, my fears were not justified: I has been a long time since I have met such a fascinated silence during the whole performance.

However, this joyful audience still produced an explosion of emotions – at the finale, for the bowing performers. The unrestrained ovation became the expression of gratitude for everything seen and heard.

The main evident thing was the great desire of the entire company to work to their fullest, with nothing held back. Participation of world-class masters, Rainer Martinez and Alan Obuzor in the ballet troupe gave the spectacle special colors. Rainer’s performance, the way he soared and jumped to incomprehensible heights, was breathtaking and simply fantastic.

The producers focused their entire attention on the dance. Although there were practically no decorations, the details were sufficient to evoke all the necessary attributes in the spectators’ imagination: here is the festively decorated, cozy Grimaldi family house, here is a snowstorm with snowflakes that came alive, here is a journey through a wondrous country on hot-air balloons … Young dreamers need only hints – they will complete the images on their own. And the audience found itself in a wonderful fairy-tale world, where the toys came alive and were dancing, the hordes of armed mice were retreating under the onslaught of the toy army, and Goodness and Love defeated Evil, just as it should be. And it was all done with wit and ingenuity. The choreographer Gladisa Guadalupe managed to provide each of the numerous ballet characters with their own personality and special dance pattern.

 

Michael Krasnyansky and Gladisa Guadalupe

 

 

We could discuss this performance for quite a while, but I would like to write about something else, no less important. About my sincere surprise at the audacity and remarkable producer abilities of Dr. Michael Krasnyansky, the Chairman of the Board & Executive Director of the Cleveland Ballet and the talent of Gladisa Guadalupe, its Artistic Director. They have performed a miracle before our very eyes. Having managed to find sponsors and establishing contacts within the professional theater business circles, having performed conceivable and inconceivable actions aimed at creating a choreography school, having amalgamated amateur and professional dancers into one, they managed to breathe life into their offspring and establish in a virtually deserted area a real ballet troupe, a resident company of the famous Playhouse Square.

Bravo!…

A New Year’s Eve trip to see The Nutcracker has become a traditional winter pleasure. Parents take their children to the show, rejoicing at the opportunity to once again immerse themselves into the magical atmosphere of the Christmas fairy tale. We became accustomed to the annual December arrival of traveling performers from a variety of ballet companies with their own versions of the fairy tale.

Now, Cleveland can be proud of its own Nutcracker.