Does classical ballet still matter to us in Northwest Arkansas? Certainly, it is not a cultural staple here. We see one, at best, once or twice a year on average. Yet, I’ve seldom seen a more enthusiastic audience than Friday night. Even the small children were riveted. The little girl sitting next to me whispered to her mother as the graceful Snowflakes swirled on stage, Mom, can I do that at home? The magic of it captures us – we are transported. There is no other human endeavor that has created so much grace, so much possibility out of the physical line of the human form. Every arc, every curve, every edge is perfected. And the technical skill is only the frame – the emotional capacity of ballet, to send love leaping into the air or fear trembling to the stage, is magnificent.
The Moscow Classical Ballet brings one of the most familiar ballets (certainly for Americans) to the Walton Arts Center stage. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker tells the story of a little girl’s Christmas dream in two rich acts. Appropriately, it is a tale of transformation: the parlor of their home becomes a gateway to the world; the Nutcracker is really a lovely prince. One of only three state ballets endorsed by the Russian government, the corps of Moscow Classical Ballet is in the upper echelon of the dance world for their studied, flawless performances. They create mechanical toys, a Candyland, battle and romance on stage all with minimal set and props (though the costumes are consistently lavish).
The entire ballet is an extension of that certain quality that memories of childhood have, that dreamy clarity. By the end, the girl’s innocence will be drawing to an end – but this is the magical revolt, the last stand of whimsy and wonderment.
At times, you can forget that their medium is the human body alone: no pulleys, no harnesses – it’s easy to take for granted that people can sail through the air when most of the Broadway season has at least one of their actors in a sling by the end. But only in ballet can people really fly.
I did miss the live orchestra. No one will see this and not recognize some of Tchaikovsky’s iconic moments in the second act. The canned music, though, was distracting at times, a bit too loud or tinny, a bit inelegant compared to the careful beauty of the ballerina on stage. One of my few complaints, though. The dancer who plays the girl, Mary (traditionally, called Clara), Ekaterina Berezina, is stunning. Lovely. The boy who dances the part of Fritz, her brother, was also magnificent. Some of his aerials are not to be believed.
Truly, there was no presence on stage that did not emanate grace. I confess I am in awe of this art, its contradictions, the tender strength of it. Whatever your predilections, we all crave the possibilities of beauty, the outer limits of it. Certainly, ballet takes its share of beauty to the extreme.
The Nutcracker runs through Dec. 23 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. Showtimes vary. For tickets, contact the box office at 479-443-5600, or visit waltonartscenter.com.
Tobias is a poet, theatre critic and freelance editor. He teaches English at the University of Arkansas and has performed with Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, an experimental theatre company here in Fayetteville. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry and Translation from the Arkansas Programs in Creative Writing and Translation where he organized the reading series, 9 by the Light. He’s also an incredibly un-picky moviegoer and thrills at any and all cinema suggestions. For more of Tobias’ contributions, see his author page.