Defending the youthfulness and whimsy of The Nutcracker, ballet instructor and managing director of the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet Pamela Daukayev says, “It’s not just a confection.”
But pastry-puff tutus and a saccharine story are just what’s delivered by Getting to the Nutcracker, a documentary profiling Daukayev’s husband’s ballet school as it prepares students to dance the traditional Christmastime ballet. It’s visual cake, a jumble of tulle, silk ribbons, long limbs, and sunsets.
This peek behind the curtain shows the ballet school’s students, parents, and directors in a gentle light, finding the charm in the oft-scorned roles of dance moms, prima donnas, and crying kids. Marat Daukayev, the school’s gruff and graying patriarch, shepherds students from corps to solo roles with expansive gestures and the occasional sparing compliment.
His tough persona compels those around him to dedicate themselves to The Nutcracker — former colleagues at the Kirov Ballet donate costumes, families pitch in to move furniture and provide food, and some of the dads even join in a charming, silly dance routine. There are no black swans here — the closest the film gets to athleticism’s inherent gore is showing a mother smearing a homemade paste of crushed Tylenol into a child’s ruptured blister.
As visually rich and heartwarming as the documentary is, director Serene Meshel-Dillman struggles with pace: The interviews with the young dancers sometimes drag, while the final dance performance is frenetic.