by John Stoehr
The Moscow Ballet presents the Great Russian Nutcracker twice at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m.
I’ve seen it before. I didn’t like it.
Not because it was performed poorly. This ensemble boasts world-class costumes and choreography. Its dancers are beautiful, graceful, poised, and powerful — everything you’d expect from an esteemed Russian ballet.
What I didn’t like was their interpretation.
After complaining to people who know a lot about dance, I was told to shut it. The Moscow Ballet’s take is standard, up there with the best dance troupes in the world, like American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Theatre.
I guess I’m in the minority. So what’s new? Bottom line: In this version, The Nutcracker is a political message.
In the traditional interpretation, a young girl named Clara, led by her toy Nutcracker, helps defeat the Rat King. Then she gets to romp through a world of fairies, toys, candy, and more.
In this re-telling, though, a child’s whimsy is turned into a Utopian fantasy. Warring factions stop fighting. All is peace and harmony.
Moreover, Clara, whose name is now Masha, is not a girl. She is a nubile teenager bashfully coming of age. And Drosselmeyer, who is typically her godfather, turns into a kind of matchmaker. He doesn’t give her a toy nutcracker to play with. He gives her a strapping young lad in tights to play with instead.
One can’t help noticing the sexual implications of Masha’s new man-doll.
Which isn’t the problem. What I disliked was the mushy we-are-the-world pap of the work’s second half.
See, the first half builds up to the second: the dances of coffee, of chocolate, of tea, and so on. Then the climax: The Nutcracker Prince dances with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara’s a kid. Having her watch all the exotic dances, and the grown ups dancing, makes sense.
But turning her into a teenager obscures all that. The Sugar Plum Fairy doesn’t get the guy. Masha does. Meanwhile, the exotic dances become a multicultural love-fest, with each country getting its own mascot (sheep representing France, if that makes any sense).
I know, I know. But I don’t like my Christmas stories transformed, oddly, into a make-love-not-war manifesto. Peace on Earth was enough for Jesus. Me, too.