NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet annually tours the US and Canada performing in the top twenty major markets including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., Houston and over 140 more North American cities. Where did it all begin?
NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet Becomes an American Tradition
NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet celebrates its 30th Anniversary tour in 2022. This year’s NUTCRACKER! is special. The tour of 50+ major US cities represents a rebirth after the pandemic froze the arts in place and closed theaters world- wide for two years. Adding exquisite poignancy are the renowned Ukrainian artists leading the troupe and developing the artistic vision of the production. Leading Principal artists of major Ukrainian Opera Houses are proud to deliver another Christmas blockbuster to American audiences this Holiday Season.
Kyiv to Tokyo, Kharkiv to Istanbul
An incredible ensemble of international Principal Artists guides the production’s path into the future. Ukrainian Prima Ballerinas Karyna Shatkovskaya (Kharkiv) and Olena Pecheniuk (Dnipro) bring an unparalleled emotional resonance to the role of Clary. Hitomi Takeda and Haruo Niyama of Japan and Batur Buklu of Turkey round out the Principal roster coming to NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet from National ballet companies in Tokyo, Paris and Istanbul.
[Full Bio] Karyna Shatkovskaya is a principal artist from the Ukrainian ballet capital of Kharkiv. With an International Ballet Competition win in Kazakhstan and as a UNESCO-recognized artist, Karyna Shatkovskaya has become the recognized leading lady of NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet. Olena Pecheniuk is a Principal Ballerina of the Dnipropetrovsk Opera House. She joined NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet on the 25th Anniversary Tour of North America as Clara and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Olena’s award-winning performances have been noted for their emotional sensitivity and empathetic communication through movement.
Talmi Entertainment’s acclaimed NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet became a holiday tradition in households across North America and was enjoyed by several prominent figures, including former first family Barack and Michelle Obama. In a memory, Michelle Obama retells in her 2018 best-selling memoir, “Becoming,” the moment her daughter, Sasha Obama, appeared on stage as a youth dancer in our production.
“It was nearly Christmas, and Sasha was among a group of local children selected to join the (former) Moscow Ballet for two performances of its [Great Russian] Nutcracker, both happening on the same day as the vigil in Newtown. Barack managed to slip into a back row and watch the dress rehearsal before leaving for Connecticut. I went to the evening show.
The ballet was as beautiful and otherworldly as any recounting of that story ever is, with its prince in a moonlit forest and its swirling pageantry of sweets. Sasha played a mouse, dressed in a black leotard with fuzzy ears and a tail, performing her part while an ornate sleigh drifted through the swelling orchestral music and showers of glittering fake snow. My eyes never left her. My whole being was grateful for her. Sasha stood bright-eyed on stage, looking at first like she couldn’t believe where she was as if she found the whole scene dazzling and unreal. Which of course it was. But she was still young enough that she could give herself over to it, at least for the moment, allowing herself to move through this heaven where nobody spoke and everyone danced, and a holiday was always just about to arrive.”
The Meeting That Would Start It All
Our story began in 1979 when ballet’s most noted principals, Alexander Godunov and Leonid and Valentina Kozlov, met producer Akiva Talmi, son of Ukrainian immigrants and graduate of The Juilliard School. Talmi produced U.S. tours “Godunov and Stars'' “Kozlov’s from Bolshoi to Broadway,” and American Ballet Theater Prima Ballerina Cynthia Gregory’s “Celebration Tour,” a benefit for the “Just Say No” campaign chaired by then-First Lady Nancy Reagan. He also produced the PBS special, “From the Top,” featuring New York City Ballet star Violet Verdi and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Talmi later introduced Valentina Kozlov at the Kennedy Center revival of “On Your Toes,” a production directed by George Balanchine as part of the famous “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” tour. He would also produce one of the first breakdancing tours in North America in 1984 demonstrating a dedication to the classic art of dance as well as an enthusiasm for embracing new art forms as they emerged.
As Talmi produced tours, his future partner Mary Giannone, a Juilliard-trained choreographer and assistant to modern dance legend Jose Limon in the Juilliard Opera Division, was among a select group of emerging ballet artists chosen by director Mikhail Baryshnikov to choreograph for American Ballet Theatre II. Mary was also a guest choreographer at Jacob’s Pillow, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Boston Ballet II, and founder of Connecticut Dance Theater. She is the Education Director for Talmi Entertainment and developed the “Dance with Us” program which yearly draws thousands of children to perform. In the late 1970s, Akiva Talmi and Mary Giannone were poised to start four decades of producing and touring ballet across North America.
Glasnost and the Perestroika Period 1989-1993
NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet founder, Akiva Talmi, traveled to create the annual “International Glasnost Festivals,” which toured the best ballerinas and dancers, including Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Stanislavsky Ballet, renowned ballet artists Tatiana Chernobrovkina and partner Alexei Malykint; Jana Kurova, Prima Ballerina of the Czechoslovakian National Ballet in Prague and winner of six International Ballet Competition gold medals; Katharine Wolf and Zoltan Nagy of the Hungarian National Ballet; and Kirov Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus Oleg Vinogradov, and offered Principal Artists Margarita Kullik and Vladimir Kim for Talmi’s Glasnost Tour. Vinogradov was invited as Artist in Residence at Yale University and was presented with Akiva Talmi at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in 2012.
During one of his visits overseas, Talmi met Stanislov Vlasov, accomplished principal dancer, and partner to Lilia Sabitova. Together they created one of the first independent and international touring ballet companies.
Talmi was fascinated by the pioneering work of Natalia Sats, specifically her unique way of reaching and engaging with young audiences. She was also innovative in the way she derived her inspiration from the Greek god Pan who envisioned all art originating in nature.
She staged Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird, even putting a Blue Bird of Happiness statue on the roof of the theatre and constructing a large aviary inside the building, encouraging children to observe how the birds lived harmoniously among each other. The company was invited by Taiwan’s President Lee to perform in Taipei, and soon after came the annual North American tours. In the early nineties, Talmi created the NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet’s “Land of Peace and Harmony” and the “Dove of Peace” roles, both of which are exclusive to Talmi Entertainment. The role, the animal puppetry, and the birds pay homage to Sats’ ideals.
2022: A New Beginning
It is a year of rebirth after a two-year touring hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet, a national touring production resplendent in all forms of theatrical production, not only boasts an international cast but also features international scenic and prop designers. The globe-spanning team includes puppeteers from the Czech Republic and South Africa, Chuvash, and St Petersburg all the way home to New York. New this year is a flock of doves created by South African creature builder and puppeteer Roger Titely representing the spirit of Peace and Harmony embedded in the production’s heart.