There are many versions of The Nutcracker, but seeing the Russian ballet performed by a premier Russian company elevates the experience to extraordinary status.
Moscow Classical Ballet's rendition of the beloved Christmas classic by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, at the Kravis Center through December 15, is beautiful in a subtle, sophisticated way. But it is different than The Nutcracker most American audiences are used to. For one thing, there is no Sugar Plum Fairy. The parts normally danced by the fairy and her prince are danced by Mary, the young girl whose dream the ballet is constructed around, and the Nutcracker Prince. This is the Russian version of the story, and it does have its variations. Other major differences include the part of Drosselmeyer (danced by Sergey Smirnov), Mary's eye-patch-wearing godfather, who in most versions is more a character role. In Moscow's Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer has significant dancing parts in both acts—and is more dashing than creepy.
But what this ballet lacks in plot points it makes up in ethereal dancing. The dancers seem absolutely weightless, like feathers floating in a light breeze. Ekaterina Berezina is riveting as Mary, the girl who comes of age as the Nutcracker Prince (Alexey Orlov) sweeps her away from her home on Christmas Eve and takes her to Candyland and its Pink River. The redheaded Berezina is charmingly playful, even through some extremely difficult maneuvers. You never realize the degree of power that goes into some of those moves; she makes it seem that effortless.
Some of the highlights: the final pas de deux between Mary and her prince; the dance of the snowflakes, whose gossamer costumes literally look like falling snow; the waltz scene, in which the music is positively transcendent; and the Oriental Dance, one of the ethnic divertissements, with its sinewy movements and sensuous Arabian sounds.
The Nutcracker is usually billed as a children-friendly ballet. This one is probably most appropriate for older children. I brought my 3 1/2-year-olds and they were bored through much of Act I. When I asked if they liked it, I got the shoulder shrug. The adults in the group, however, loved it.