Starring two-time and current Olympic champion figure skater Pasha Grishuk as "Clara".
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re-named Beau Rivage Theatre -- former home of Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria" -- the cast of "Nutcracker on Ice," took to the stage in preparation for the show's Friday opening.
If you go
What: "Nutcracker on Ice"
Where: Beau Rivage Resort, Biloxi.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17.
The stage -- actually 40-by-60-foot ice arena -- had been created the day, before transforming the space into the winter wonderland of the classic holiday ballet, set to the soaring music of
Russian composer Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky.
After a practice Tuesday night and five hours on the ice Wednesday, co-stars Pasha Grishuk and
her prince, Sergei Tartykov, glided across the small ice arena, rehearsing twists, turns, lifts and embraces under the watchful eye of choreographer Yuliana Malkhassiants.
With her blond curls and slight frame, Pasha Grishuk is the quintessential Clara, the central character of "The Nutcracker," a holiday favorite since it was first produced by the Russian
Imperial Ballet in 1892.
The 26-year-old skater, dancer and aspiring actress is a two-time Olympic gold-medal champion with four World Champion gold medals and three European gold medals to her name.
Even in fatigue-colored work-out pants and a flowered T-shirt, Pasha Grishuk was the embodiment of the grace and innocence of Clara. During rehearsal, she practiced seemingly
effortless spins and glissades across the ice and a scheduled interview had to wait. For the show to go on for its Friday debut, the skaters needed more practice time.
After two more hours of rehearsal, Pasha Grishuk took a break to talk about the show. She explained that a production the size of "Nutcracker on Ice" normally requires at least one month of
rehearsal; this group had only six days on site and a previous week in Las Vegas. However, she wasn't worried about opening night; she said that the cast was populated with perfectionists,
including herself. "I always put pressure on myself," she said.
The production marks Pasha Grishuk's first turn as Clara, a role she was excited to play.
"I love this fairy tale and can't believe I never skated it before. The music is so unbelievable, the
adagios . . . " she said trailing off dreamily. "I like her character. Clara is a very sweet, nice girl. She falls in love with the nutcracker and he becomes her prince. I just love this story."
In addition to starring in "Nutcracker," Pasha is helping to choreograph her part, which she said is a great experience, especially since she has to contend with a relatively small arena.
"It is very difficult, especially for me. My technique is trained over so many years with a lot of speed and fast footwork. I have to measure and think where does the ice end," explained the
Odessa, Ukraine native in her precise, Russian-accented English.
Audiences, she said, should expect a combination of artistry and athleticism, with elements of ice dancing, single skating and acting.
"We have the idea that this is also theater, not the Olympic games. People want to see the story,
the fairy tale," she said. "We could have done more difficult stuff if the ice were bigger, but it's not needed for this show."
Pasha explained that the show is primarily a traditional rendition of the classic ballet, with a few modern touches. "In our generation we try to be a little different and reinvent every time we do
Malkhassiants agreed, saying the American audience would be familiar with their interpretation.
With two productions of "The Nutcracker" as a principal solo dancer with the famed Bolshoi Ballet on her resume, choreographer Malkhassiants brings experience and a love of the ballet
and its music to the show. "The music by Tchaichovsky is very beautiful. It's just fantastic," she said during a rehearsal break.
In addition to being a performer, Malkhassiants also operates and serves as artistic director of her own dance company in Moscow; as such she is very involved with the technical aspects of
theater and was pleased to find the Beau Rivage Theatre a state-of-the-art venue. After searching for the adjectives to describe the theater, she said, "It has fantastic lighting effects
here. It's a very good theater (technically) . . . You can use all good words to describe it."