The Nutcracker

Ballet soloist Valeria Zapasnikova (L) and principal dancer Leonid Sarafanov perform in Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor PICTURE 26 OF 31 - SEARCH "DUKOR NUTCRACKER" FOR ALL IMAGES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Ballet soloist Valeria Zapasnikova (L) and principal dancer Leonid Sarafanov perform in Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

By Grigory Dukor, Reuters
December, 2015

When the curtain rises for “The Nutcracker” at St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre, it is the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians.

It appeared to have paid off at a recent matinee performance. Children looked on wide-eyed as the evil Mouse King did his worst and the Sugar Plum Fairy wowed the capacity audience with a legendary pas de deux that dancers have performed since the first rendition of the ballet in 1892.

Musicians rehearse with conductor Igor Tomashevsky before Nacho Duato's ballet "The Nutcracker" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor PICTURE 21 OF 31 - SEARCH "DUKOR NUTCRACKER" FOR ALL IMAGES

Musicians rehearse with conductor Igor Tomashevsky before Nacho Duato’s ballet “The Nutcracker” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

The production – by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, with French stage designer Jerome Kaplan assisting with choreography – is put together by an extensive team, from a painter touching up scenery to a violinist practising or a ballet dancer leaping in a workout.

“Nacho Duato has created a real fairy tale and a beautiful ballet,” Leonid Sarafanov, principal dancer at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, told Reuters. “I am always happy to rehearse and perform his choreography.”

Ballet dancers perform in Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor PICTURE 25 OF 31 - SEARCH "DUKOR NUTCRACKER" FOR ALL IMAGES

Ballet dancers perform in Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 20, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

The production, meanwhile, is a clear demonstration of the global appeal of the Christmas classic.

For it is not just in Russia – where dance appeals to fans young and old from many economic backgrounds – that the ballet continues to draw crowds more than a century after Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote the score.

Principal dancer Ivan Zaytsev performs in Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 21, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor PICTURE 24 OF 31 - SEARCH "DUKOR NUTCRACKER" FOR ALL IMAGES

Principal dancer Ivan Zaytsev performs in Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 21, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

In New York, for example, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” includes the rapper Kurtis Blow, while a more traditional production by English National Ballet is performed at The Coliseum in London’s West End.

“It’s magical, a typical fairy-tale ballet,” Barry Drummond, a dancer with the English National Ballet, who plays roles including the older Freddie, told Reuters. “I could go and watch it again and again.”

Drummond, who started to dance aged 11, first saw The Nutcracker – sometimes billed as simply Nutcracker – about five years later.

“It was two hours of being taken somewhere completely different,” he recalls. “That’s very special at Christmas.”

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Ballet dancers perform in Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 21, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Ballet dancers perform in Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 21, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Wherever The Nutcracker is staged, from Los Angeles to Melbourne via Tokyo, the performance does not just happen. The entire dance troupe at the Mikhailovsky started one day of painstaking preparation with a dance class even before formal rehearsals, which continued beyond 9 p.m.

“It’s extremely demanding and requires a huge amount of stamina,” says Drummond at the English National Ballet.

An exterior view of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 25, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato's "The Nutcracker" demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it's the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

An exterior view of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia November 25, 2015. For theatregoers in St Petersburg, Nacho Duato’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates the global appeal of a Christmas classic. When the curtain rises at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, among the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of toil and sweat by dancers, costume makers, set designers and musicians playing the famous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

At the theatre in St Petersburg, repetiteur Zhanna Ayupova, directed all rehearsals.

“From time to time (she) tried to overcome my strong character and turn me into a delicate and fragile girl,” Valeria Zapasnikova, soloist at the Mikhailovsky Theatre said.

“The role of Masha has become a great pleasure for me,” she says, referring to the affectionate name given in Russia to the character Clara. “This is another milestone in my professional development.”

Among the rewards for all the rehearsals and a long string of performances of The Nutcracker is helping to preserve an age-old ballet tradition, Drummond in London says.

“When you take your call at the end, all the hard work is absolutely worth it.”

Copyright Reuters 2015

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