With a flourish of grand classic style and a nod to tradition, the Donetsk Ballet opened its two-week engagement last night at the Lyric.
For those ballet fans who are accustomed to their "Nutcrackers" peppered with the pitter-patter of small feet, the Donetsk's all-adult version is as close to the Petipa original as one can get. And this charming company more than makes up for any lack of childish preciousness.
Accompanied by a 48-piece orchestra composed of local musicians under the direction of Mikhail Bank, this version of E. T. A. Hoffmann's story choreographed by Vladimir Shumeikin has several surprises.
Pantomime was relegated to the smallest parts in the first act. Instead, we get real dancing and plenty of it. From the dolls with their mechanically inspired movements to the dazzling patterns in the snow scene, the brief divertissements to the genteel "Waltz of the Flowers," this company ably brings the grand style of classical ballet to life.
There have been more lavish productions of "The Nutcracker," more elaborate sets, more special effects, but this company's singular classic focus and often breathtaking performance was completely satisfying.
True, this was not a flawless performance. There were minor mishaps in the corps de ballet and in several short dances, but the whole effect is the creation of a refined time gone by, of male bravery and girlish femininity, and of traditions that renewed.
The stars of the Donetsk Ballet are Vadim Pisarev and Inna Dorofeyeva. Dancing separately, they are brilliant. Dancing together, they can blind you with their perfect sense of timing. Their grand pas de deux that closes the ballet was pure magic. At times, Ms. Dorofeyeva looked as if she were caught on the edge of a dream -- not here or there -- until her partner plucks her from the air and sets her feet on the stage.
Yet while Mr. Pisarev's bold leaps, flashy jumps and heroic turns are exciting, it was Ms. Dorofeyeva who expressed all the magic and power of the ballet.
This couple aren't the only notables in the cast. Olga Nemtseva and Alexander Kassianenko were terrific as Columbine and Harlequin. Ella Gurkova and Alexander Boitsov gave just the right fillip of energy to bowl the audience over with their "Russian dance."
This version of "The Nutcracker" should be seen. Ten more performances are scheduled before the show ends its Lyric run Dec. 30.