Try to imagine a holiday season without “The Nutcracker.” It can’t be done.
The world’s most famous ballet, with timeless music by Tchaikovsky, has become an unbreakable tradition in many communities around the country — including here in Northern Utah.
“The music is in our DNA,” said Andrew Barrett Watson, outreach and special events manager for Onstage Ogden, the presenter for a professional “Nutcracker” production each year. “Turn on the TV right now, and there’s some holiday commercial playing ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.’ It’s everywhere. It really is in our DNA.”
And, like countless holidays that came before, Onstage Ogden is once again bringing the beloved “Nutcracker” — about a toy nutcracker who comes to life and the girl who loves him — to town this season. But this time, there’s a bit of a behind-the-scenes plot twist.
Onstage Ogden has been bringing in Ballet West’s version of “The Nutcracker” for decades, according to Watson. But this year, the Salt Lake City-based professional dance company is taking its production of the holiday favorite to Anchorage, Alaska, at a time that they’d usually do their traditional Ogden performances. So Ogden needed to look elsewhere for a professional version of “The Nutcracker.”
Enter Moscow Ballet.
The Russian ballet company has been touring the United States and Canada since 1993, and this year it will bring its “Great Russian Nutcracker” to Ogden for three performances in the Browning Center’s Austad Auditorium at Weber State University.
Shows are at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, and at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Tickets are $10 to $45, at onstageogden.org or 801-399-9214.
Watson suggests checking out this Moscow Ballet version of “The Nutcracker” if you’re looking for something that is both “different and very traditional.”
“There’s not much of a difference between theirs and when it premiered back in 1892 with Tchaikovsky,” he said. “It’s a straight-up traditional ballet.”
Of course, audiences will notice a few differences between the Ballet West and Moscow Ballet versions. For example, while most Utah audiences know the female protagonist as “Clara,” in this and other Russian productions she’s known as “Masha.”
“It’s a different experience — it’s very cultural,” Watson said. “They’ll do a lot of things out in the lobby, like signing autographs and taking photos with the kids.”
“Great Russian Nutcracker” is more than just a ballet, according to Mariia Yevdokymova, a soloist and audition director with the Moscow Ballet.
“Firstly, it’s not only a classical ballet, it will be more of a show,” Yevdokymova said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s the 21st century, and the audience doesn’t just want to see classical ballet, it also must be a great show.”
Elaborate costumes, expansive sets and magical props are all part of that show. The holiday spectacle will include Russian Matrushka (nesting) dolls, a peacock with a tail that opens to be 8 feet wide, a troika sleigh, giant puppets, and a Christmas tree that grows to be 50 feet tall.
Yevdokymova said there are plenty more surprises in store, but she didn’t want to give away all of the production’s secrets.
“If I tell you, then you will already have everything,” she said.
Watson calls the upcoming ballet performances a “fully realized theatrical production.”
Moscow Ballet features three companies of 36 Russian dancers, touring 144 cities this holiday season. Watson said the traveling production can’t be easy on the performers.
“It’s a bus and truck tour,” Watson said. “It is definitely not a glamorous life. They work their tutus off putting on the production, then it’s off to the next city.”
Yevdokymova was in Ogden for three days earlier this fall as part of an outreach program stemming from this month’s Moscow Ballet visit. While here, she worked with about 200 students from Burch Creek Elementary School and visited about 50 children at a Youth Impact after-school program.
“She taught them about ‘The Nutcracker,’ did some movement things, then taught them Russian numbers and words and the names of Russian animals,” Watson said.
Yevdokymova also posed for students in a Weber State University drawing class.
“She put on her tutu and posed for an hour for the drawing students,” Watson said. “She could hold a pose for about five minutes — we’d have her in a plié, or up on her toes. It was exhausting just watching her.”
Watson calls the famed holiday ballet “ubiquitous” at this time of year. It’s also a money-maker for arts organizations. Because “The Nutcracker” is so popular, it’s relatively easy to sell tickets to performances.
“Doing shows like ‘Nutcracker’ allow us to do some of these other shows that may not have as big an audience but that we feel are important to bring in here,” Watson said. “‘The Nutcracker’ is a bit of a cash cow for us. That’s why theater companies do ‘A Christmas Carol’ every year. People just love it.”
In past years, the Ballet West performances of “The Nutcracker have generally sold out, and Watson expects no less from Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker.” Indeed, he says he hasn’t noticed much of a difference in ticket sales between this and previous years.
“Nobody’s realizing this is not a Ballet West production,” Watson said. “The only thing they care about is that it’s ‘The Nutcracker,’ and that it’s a professional production — not your 6-year-old niece stumbling all over the stage.”