Cracks in Koreans’ classic

Times Staff Writer

Dancing its first “Nutcracker” anywhere this season, the Universal Ballet of Korea endured a number of unfortunate technical problems at Shrine Auditorium on Thursday.

This is a company schooled in the Russian tradition to a rare degree of refinement, and it’s unlikely that any other Southland “Nutcracker” will surpass the Koreans’ 24 dancing Snowflakes in perfectly matched purity of style. However, dim lighting, bungled scenic effects and use of an uncredited tape of Tchaikovsky’s score kept magic at bay and the dancing only sporadically involving in the opening performance of a brief local engagement.

Part of the disappointment came from the version: Vasily Vainonen’s chilly 1934 “Nutcracker” (much respected inside Russia) with its powdered wigs and formal airs. Aided by energetic, well-drilled children from the locally based Marat Daukayev School of Ballet, the Koreans brought enormous warmth to the performance and even replaced Vainonen’s wan Mirlitons divertissement with a surprising playoff between baby sheep and a wolf (a sequence reportedly created by former company director Roy Tobias).

But they still had to contend with Vainonen’s passionless dances as well as his insistence that little Clara replace the Sugar Plum Fairy in the classical challenges of Act 2. Hye-Kyung Lim danced the role sweetly and with great charm, especially when interacting with Drosselmeyer (the affable Vladimir Djouloukadze) in Act 1. But hauled between five partners in what’s normally the Grand Pas de Deux -- or called upon for bravura pointe-work in her considerably shortened solo -- she lacked prima ballerina authority and one missed the little girl who had been so responsive earlier.


Worse, ill-timed lighting and scenic transitions all but wrecked her major moments of connection with the Nutcracker prince in Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2. The highly promising Semyon Chudin displayed an easy jump and solid partnering skills in the role but also, alas, too many unreliable terminations. And he looked unmanned when the four cavaliers yanked Clara away from him in what should have been a love duet. (Anybody remember how Farukh Ruzimatov made everyone except Clara seem invisible when he danced the same choreography with the Kirov?)

The company fielded hordes of exemplary soloists, including Hong-Il Min (Harlequin), Anton Sergeev (Moor), Ji-Eun Ahn and Nan-Hee Yoo (lead Snowflakes), Sang-Eun Lee (Arabian), Yoo-Hee Sohn and Konstantin Novoselov (Chinese). But it was the proud, spirited Trepak quartet that came closest to stopping the show.

Although his Christmas tree didn’t grow nearly enough to fill the music written for the scene, the late Simon Virsaladze’s sets and costumes looked sumptuous -- when you could see them in the pervasive gloom. But the blackface makeup for the Moor definitely needs to go -- and fast.




Universal Ballet

Where: Shrine Auditorium, 665 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A.

When: 2 and 7 p.m. today

Price: $33 to $97

Contact: (213) 480-3232 or