A tough nut to crack

The Israel Ballet performs its version of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet ‘The Nutcracker.’

The Israel Ballet performs its version of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet ‘The Nutcracker’’. (photo credit: PR)
The Israel Ballet performs its version of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet ‘The Nutcracker’’.
(photo credit: PR)
Like so many great works of art, The Nutcracker was not an immediate success. Exactly 122 years ago, in a theater in St.
Petersburg, when Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky revealed his newest opus, it was met with lukewarm responses at best. Presented as the first half of a double bill, The Nutcracker was a ballet interpretation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. It took many years for Tchaikovsky’s narrative ballet to be accepted and understood and to claim its place as one of the most performed, viewed and cherished ballets in the history of the world.
Last night, on the anniversary of that confusing premiere, the Israel Ballet joined the list of dance companies around the world that perform The Nutcracker. The company will present the ballet over the coming weeks in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Haifa.
The ballet tells the story of a little girl named Clara who receives a gift of a wooden nutcracker for Christmas. Later that night, she dreams that she and the personified Nutcracker are whisked away to a world where flowers and sweets come to life to dance for them.
For many reasons, The Nutcracker is a challenging production to pull off. For one, the set and costumes are extremely elaborate. The choreography, which was restaged by Nina Gershman, is demanding of the dancers, to say the least.
“I worked with the dancers a lot,” smiles Gershman. A former principal dancer of the Israel Ballet, Gershman appreciates the amount of work that goes into perfecting each turn or leap. “There are very difficult elements in this ballet. The dancers were very excited about this challenge. They came ready to work, and they put everything they had into getting it right. Every dancer really took a big leap forward. They are jumping better, turning better and partnering better.”
Gershman, 45, was born and raised in Russia, where she received her initial dance training. Twentythree years ago, inspired by friends who had taken the leap, Gershman moved to Israel. She joined the Israel Ballet, where she would go on to dance as a soloist for many years.
“I loved working with the dancers.
Because I was a principal dancer, I love to pass on what I know. I love to see the process, to see where we started and where we end up. The dancers forget it, but I don’t. As a teacher, I can see how far the dancers have come. That’s something that no one can take from you,” she says.
To fill all the roles in the ballet, Gershman employed the cast of the Israel Ballet, as well as a number of students from the company’s school.
“I have two hats here in the ballet, and I wore them both during this production,” she explains. “One is my work with the company as the associate artistic director, and the second is as the director of the school. I don’t know where else in Israel there is a joint project between a school and a company like this. It really raises the bar for the students.
I see how, since we started rehearsing this production, the students come to class with new motivation. They see the dancers and how well they move, and they apply themselves twice as much. I remember seeing the dancers rehearse Swan Lake when I was a student and how much it motivated me. I promised myself then that I would dance that ballet when I was older, and I fulfilled that dream,” she says.
For Gershman, in spite of the extra work hours and the stress, taking on The Nutcracker has been a very sweet endeavor.
“The Nutcracker is magical in my eyes,” she says. “I always loved the transition from little Clara to big Clara and the music that goes with it. There is a very interesting part in the first act where the Nutcracker battles with the Mouse King. In our version, the Nutcracker has an army of girl soldiers, played by students. I think it’s one of the sweetest parts of the ballet. The story is so special and universal because we see Clara’s dream come true on stage. Here at the Israel Ballet, we want to wish for the kids in Israel that their dreams will come true as well. To show them that good will conquer evil, and to give the parents a chance to go back to being children as they watch.”
The Israel Ballet will present ‘The Nutcracker’ at Tel Aviv University’s Smolarsh Hall on December 19 at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and on December 20 at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Performances will also take place at the Petah Tikva Cultural Center on December 21; at the Jerusalem Theatre on December 22; and at the Haifa Auditorium on December 23.