It’s that time of the year again when Nutcracker productions are danced all over the world. Although all productions are based on the same story, with so many companies dancing their own version it is suddenly very clear how different the same ballet can be in another theatre. The Bolshoi Ballet's The Nutcracker is undoubtedly one of the most traditional ones. The Bolshoi has been dancing Yuri Grigorovich’s production every year for over half a century, and it will undoubtedly enchant many more generations to come.

© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre

This Nutcracker is not overtly glittery and bright. The sets by Simon Virsaladze are rather dark. Most of the story plays at night and warm red and green are used for the interiors and decorations. Just as in the Moscow streets, snow falls on stage, and the swirling white snowflakes are a striking contrast to the darkness of the stage. The sets in the first act didn’t really catch my eye, but I was very charmed by the design of the second act. Huge tree branches and moving ornaments (the highlight being a swing which carries Clara and the prince) make you feel as if you are the same size as a Christmas toy and part of a magical world of living ornaments.

The choreography is also without too much special effects, yet that doesn’t mean that it is in any way less impressive. The choreography fits the music perfectly, and nothing is as impressive as seeing the music through the dance. Between the sometimes somewhat traditional and plain acting scenes and group dances, there were quite a few highlights to enjoy. Best examples are the waltzes. Take a choreography in which every musical note becomes visible and a graceful corps the ballet that is able to dance in perfect unison and you get a delightful Waltz of the Snowflakes. And this was only a warm up for the sweet and heart warming choreography of the Waltz of the Flowers.

© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre

Besides these brilliant examples of ensemble choreography there were also some solos and pas de deux to enjoy. I loved the Harlequin and Columbine, performed by Denis Medvedev and Margarita Shrainer, two skilful dancers who made these jolly roles not only charming and funny but choreographically interesting as well. And then of course there are the colourful dances of the dolls. The Indian dance (Victoria Yakusheva and Alexander Voytyuk) stood out. Though choreographically singular, with the flexing of the feet and bending of the knees, the featured balances were impressive. Although very well danced, The Spanish, Russian and French dances were not spectacular and lacked country specific character which should distinguish them from each other.

The main roles of the Nutcracker Prince and Marie were danced by Alexander Volchkov and Nina Kaptsova. The feel good character of the Nutcracker almost makes you forget how technically challenging this production actually is. I’ve seen multiple high jetés in perfect unison and overhead lifts, and all danced in perfect harmony. The Sugar Plum Fairy variation is the highlight of this production. It is danced entirely on pointe, is very detailed and demands precision and fine musicality too. Nina Kaptsova undoubtedly had all those qualities.

© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre

The simple storyline makes it an easy to follow production, and although you could say the narrative lacks a little depth (particularly, the characters lack depth), in the end it is the charm of the ballet, the fantasy and the musicality which make this ballet so loved around the Christmas holidays. Add the magical atmosphere of the richly decorated historic stage of the Bolshoi Theatre and its brilliant dancers and you have a Nutcracker performance to dream of.