In its local debut Friday at Cal State L.A., Ballet Internationale of Indianapolis strongly established its credentials as an ensemble trained and coached to reflect the highest standards of late-Soviet classicism.
Former Kirov principal Eldar Aliev and his distinguished Russian associates have given the 29 dancers a uniform style, so that even when an individual performer proved no better than what you’d expect from a regional company, that individual supported (and was supported by) a shared vision of Kirov refinement.
The kiddie corps recruited from the Southland’s own Debbie Allen Dance Academy also fit in perfectly at the Luckman complex on Friday, so that everyone from the smallest child to Aliev’s excellent Russian and Japanese principals made his version of “The Nutcracker” an affirmation of a transplanted but still vibrant artistic heritage.
Danced to a Kirov recording of the Tchaikovsky score (minus Mother Ginger and a few other passages), Aliev’s staging toyed ineffectually with the idea of writer E.T.A. Hoffmann dreaming up the story -- and also attempted to combine the traditional ballet plot with Hoffmann’s tale of the Mouse Queen’s evil spell.
However, these inclusions seemed less problematic than his inability to create a coherent role for little Clara, who was mostly a passive bystander here with occasional spasms of toe-dancing that came out of nowhere. Clara can be a wide-eyed child or a hard-working ballerina, but ricocheting from one concept to the other played very awkwardly.
Happily, the production offered enough magic and sheer splendor to outweigh its lapses, starting with the sumptuous sets and costumes by Simon Pastukh and Galina Solovyeva, who also designed the Universal Ballet of Korea’s lavish “Romeo and Juliet.” In Act 2, Pastukh’s vista for the Kingdom of Sweets suggested the imperial Russian architecture of St. Petersburg while Solovyeva’s gold-trimmed apparel made the multinational divertissement characters (representing coffee, tea, marzipan, etc.) look like delicious foil-wrapped chocolates. Especially tasty: the pliant So Yon Nam, the buoyant Alexandar Alexandrov and the hearty Ian Poulis.
The ultimate “Nutcracker” sweet, of course, is the Sugar Plum Fairy and Chieko Oiwa floated serenely through the role, marginally insecure in a few exposed balances during the grand pas de deux but blameless when Aliev dumped too many ill-fitting virtuoso steps on her and Alexei Tyukov in the coda. She also contributed a splendid doll dance to the party scene.
As the Nutcracker Prince, the elegantly proportioned Tyukov faced most of the bravura challenges that Aliev created for Act 1, dispatching them energetically and ardently, with special attention to perfect finishes. In Act 2, he partnered Oiwa capably and brought reliable professionalism though no great flair to the showpiece overload imposed on him.
Phillip Velinov deftly danced Drosselmeyer (Hoffmann in disguise), and Jessica Miller coped with the role of Clara as skillfully as possible.
Hidden under masks or character makeup, and often cross-dressing in either gender or species, Rebekah Criscimagna, Irina Komarenko, Selahattin Erkan and Lindsey Hanlon had fun with the most extreme roles of the ballet.
Finally, all honor to the Ballet Internationale women’s corps -- small in number (just 12 for the Waltz of the Snowflakes) but flawlessly matched and rehearsed. If this company has a repertory equal to its finely honed sense of style, there’s no question that it will soon be a welcome guest on many major stages.