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Moscow Stars Enliven Patchwork ‘Nutcracker’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With an evil Mouse Queen who can rival Uma Thurman’s recent turn as Poison Ivy in “Batman and Robin,” and a studly Prince more than capable of executing one-arm lifts with flair to spare, the Moscow Classical Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” returns to the Southland. Now on its fourth American tour, and most recently seen last weekend at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, this holiday chestnut lands at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Tuesday night for a five-day run.

As performed Saturday afternoon, it was, however, the lyrical and winning dancing of Yekaterina Berezina as Masha, accented with razor-sharp turns and healthy jumps, that helped hold the production together. That Tchaikovsky’s familiar score poured forth from tape, was, of course, unfortunate, but those venturing to Costa Mesa for this terpsichorean favorite will be treated to the Pacific Symphony’s accompaniment.

With mostly uninspired choreography attributed to former Bolshoi stars Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov, as well as to Vasili Vainonen, whose renown was from the 1940s, the staging is more patchwork than perfection: The busy first-act party scene splays in too many directions, with excessive miming and the superfluous subplot of Masha’s sister, Louisa (a proficient Anna Neronova), getting engaged.

Brother Fritz, on the other hand, as danced splendidly by Andrei Prikhodko (who also had to execute a bit of tomfoolery with a ladder in the second-act pas de trois), breathed sparks into what is usually a minor role.

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Lev Solodovnikov’s painted backdrops and scrims are not exactly magical--there is no growing Christmas tree, and what snow does fall is very scant--but Elizaveta Dvorkina’s costumes, brimming with golds and whites and sequined snoods, project a kind of cozy, sparkly warmth. Luckily, this feeling extends to Masha and her Prince. Partnering the poised, radiant Berezina with elegant ease was Danila Korsountsev. Tall and commanding, his solos displayed hyper-extended limbs, facile speed and soft landings.

Would that the same could be said for the male corps. And, as no two snowflakes are alike, such was the case with the female corps, whose footwork proved sloppy and far from uniform, even when perched on their knees.

More appealing were other soloists: Tatiana Yatsenko’s near-hissing Mouse Queen, a preening, twirling, Vegas-like vision in gray unitard, executed some very deft splits. Also performing with back-arching finesse was Marina Rzhannikova’s Coffee, while Aleksandra Galkina and Vladimir Stourov made the most of their Spanish Dance sequence.

Valery Trofimchouk’s Drosselmeyer, a benign figure in white, danced throughout with cloudy characterization, but relaxed authority. For “Nut” fans of varying degrees, come, all ye faithful, and enjoy this Russian confection.

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* Moscow Classical Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” opens Tuesday, 8 p.m. Also, Wednesday 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursday, 8 p.m.; Friday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787. $20-$65.

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