Every city offers presentations of "The Nutcracker" in December. In some places, including D.C., audiences even have multiple productions from which to choose.
Given its ubiquity at this time of year, it seems strange to learn that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet about an extraordinary Christmas present actually wasn't a success when it premiered on Dec. 18, 1892, at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre. America didn't even see a production of the complete ballet until Christmas Eve 1944. But it soon fell in love, and the immense popularity of the work in this country helped turn it into a holiday classic.
Russia recently returned the favor. For just one day -- Dec. 3 -- Americans could see "The Nutcracker" performed by those who know it best. And they could see it in 3-D.
NCM Fathom Events and More2Screen brought the Mariinsky Ballet Theatre into cinemas for this special presentation. It's the sort of event that could become more common, thanks to a confluence of factors: advances in technology, an increasingly globalized cultural world, and fewer movie tickets being sold. Fathom is a leader in cinema special events. It's behind the very successful "Live in HD" series, in which Metropolitan Opera productions are broadcast in theaters across the country -- and across the world -- giving people who might never get to New York the chance to see and hear Russia's premier opera company in a way they couldn't at home.
When the show finally began, we were whisked immediately to the Mariinsky Theatre, with shots of the audience accompanying the sound of the overture. We also had regular looks at the conducting of Mariinsky general and artistic director Valery Gergiev. For one week earlier this year I spent nearly every night at the legendary St. Petersburg theater, and I didn't often have such a chance to see the master maestro at work close up.
You could also see the very soles of the shoes the dancers wore. The shots of the show itself were creative. Cameras from above allowed an almost panoramic view of the action. The gorgeous costumes sparkled on screen. And the close-ups of the faces revealed how young some of the performers were -- but they also made it impossible to see the dancing, if only for a few moments.
The Mariinsky has almost no equal in the world when it comes to technique, though theirs is, of course, a particular Russian style of ballet. This "Nutcracker" was majestic but it wasn't quite as wondrous as seeing the Mariinsky Ballet live, which I was lucky enough to do more than once this year in St. Petersburg.
Few Americans will ever find themselves in Russia. Seeing a three-dimensional performance straight from Russia's cultural capital in your own city or town is certainly the next-best thing.