Now that Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, all eyes filled with holiday spirit are focused on the jolly, yuletide day of Dec. 25. But if the red and green decorations and falling snow aren't enough to get you into the full-on festive mode, the Moscow Ballet might have just the thing to help you feel the Christmas spirit. On Nov. 28, the Moscow Ballet will take up residence at Jesse Auditorium for one night to put on their seasonal production of the Great Russian Nutcracker.
Yuriy Kuzo, 30, has been a part of the Moscow Ballet since 2015 and is performing the parts of the Christmas Father and a party guest in this year’s production. He started dancing at five years old and has been a professional in both ballet and folk dancing since he was 19. He originally auditioned for the Moscow Ballet while living in Ukraine at the recommendation of a friend who was already in the production.
Kuzo stands alongside ranks of dancers from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan who are regarded as some of the best dancers in the world. “Every year, you can see new dancers on stage,” he says. “We are looking for new talent all the time and vastly improving ourselves.”
Just how does the Moscow Ballet’s take on the Nutcracker tale differ from the version we’re all familiar with? There’s a slight change of location in the second act from the “Land of the Sweets.” Instead, Klara arrives in the "Land of Peace and Harmony," “where all creatures, animal and human, live in accord with each other” as well as otherworldly creatures like unicorns, phoenixes and dragons, according to Kuzo and the Moscow Ballet website. The performance also includes the "Dove of Peace," a two-dancer performance that welcomes Klara to the "Land of Peace and Harmony."
Another aspect of the Moscow Ballet’s performance that makes it stand out is the inclusion of local youth dancers from a host studio in each town it performs in. Columbia’s host studio is the School of Missouri Contemporary Ballet, which has partnered with the Moscow Ballet for three years now. According to Caitlin Sloan, the school director for the Contemporary Ballet, once the school holds auditions and casting, the audition director teaches all the choreography to the students. After a few days, the instructor leaves to rejoin the tour, and the school is responsible for rehearsals and making sure the kids are ready for the show. The dancers rehearse every Saturday through the fall until the day of the performance. “The Nutcracker is such a timeless holiday classic, so as a dancer, it doesn't really feel like the holiday until you've done The Nutcracker,” Sloan says.
Kuzo is one of the audition directors for the Moscow Ballet. He learned the skills to be a professional choreographer while at university and teaches his students the same way his teachers taught him years ago. "The idea is always to give kids a chance to improve themselves and to give them a path in their lives,” Kuzo says. “I hope that I have left a seed in their heart that they can achieve everything they want.”
At its base, the story and origins of the Christmas holiday is a miracle. In a literary sense, The Nutcracker story could be considered a miracle story as well, as Klara travels to different worlds and fictional lands. With a combination of comedy and drama, the performance makes for the perfect family show this holiday season. This year’s performance is also dedicated to the International Day of Peace. “We want to touch people's hearts and show that there is a lot of peace in this world,” Kuzo says.