The music for the Nutcracker was ordered up like a custom-made suit by the legendary 19th-century ballet master Petipa, says Sergey Kozadayev of Westmont’s Salt Creek Ballet. The order was taken by the great Russian composer Tchaikovsky, and it was very precise. Not only “a Spanish dance, a Chinese dance,” but something like “two bars for trumpet calls, two bars for cannon shooting, and then wounded mice start to scream, then they are going to attack–sixteen bars!” Tchaikovsky, who considered himself a craftsman, more than met the challenge: we’re still humming his magical score. But the dance that dictated it–the choreography of Petipa and his assistant, Lev Ivanov–has been lost. The Nutcracker we’ve seen a lot of in the United States? “Balanchine’s,” Kozadayev says. “Mr. B. made the version after Petipa, but I am sure he changed a lot.” Kozadayev spent part of last summer looking for clues to the original choreography in Petipa’s journal. This weekend Salt Creek Ballet will present Kozadayev’s own version of Nutcracker, with choreography in the first act based on Petipa’s notes.

This is the third season at Salt Creek for Kozadayev and his wife, Zhanna Dubrovskaya. He’s artistic director; she directs the school. The couple met as students and married when they were both principal dancers at the Maly Theater in Saint Petersburg. They danced, coached, and choreographed at the Maly for more than 20 years, getting a sort of artist’s pass from the Soviet government. “They pressed us in some ways,” Kozadayev says. “Censors. And of course it was required some ballets reflect how beautiful, how nice this regime.” When Kozadayev tried to mix classical music with a little Oscar Peterson for a modern dance, “they killed the jazz,” he says. “But everything what was pertaining to classical ballet, they never touch us, because, you know, it’s so specific, and so far from politics. What can you do about Swan Lake? There’s no reason to destroy it. They just ignore us.” The government subsidized the ballet and profited from its world tours.

After the communists fell, things were different. “It was a dangerous situation in Russia,” Kozadayev says. In 1991 the dancers and their twin sons, Ilya and Alexander, immigrated to the United States. “I don’t want to think about reasons,” he says, “but can you imagine if all–family, work, life–is there and we decided to leave? It is a reason. We were considering to do the best for our sons.” They spent seven years at Denver’s Colorado Ballet, where the boys became accomplished dancers and joined the company. (The twins, now 21 years old, have both recently won international dance competitions.) Three years ago they were invited to take over Salt Creek, the school founded in Westmont a dozen years earlier by former American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancer, Patricia Sigurdson. “We are so pleased, so safe in this country,” Kozadayev says. “Everybody has a room under this sun, under this moon, and we are so happy that we are here and our kids are here and we have a job, not only a job, a great job, and it’s our life, ballet, and we’re still going, still youngsters.”

Dubrovskaya adds that the company’s annual production of Nutcracker gives the school’s students (and a few extra boys pressed into service) the chance to perform in a “professional” program. This year’s show has been double cast: 80 dancers are participating, accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra. They’ll be joined by ballet’s hottest young couple as guest soloists: ABT principal dancers Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky in the roles of the Sugar Plum fairy and her cavalier. And in Kozadayev’s adaptation of the second act, the little heroine, Clara, gets to be more than a kid in a nightgown observing the ball. Played by Westmont’s Carolyn Parma and Aurora’s Katherine Bruno, she’ll morph into a grown-up princess and dance the second act pas de deux with the Nutcracker-turned-prince.

Salt Creek Ballet’s 15th annual Nutcracker can be seen Saturday, November 25, at 1 and 5 and Sunday, November 26, at 1 in the Hinsdale Central Auditorium, 55th and Grant in Hinsdale (tickets are $18 to $28; call 630-769-1199). It will also be performed Saturday, December 2, at 1 and 5 at the Paramount Arts Centre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora (tickets are $16 to $20; call 630-896-6666), and Saturday, December 9, at 1 and 5 at the Center for the Performing Arts, Governors State University in University Park (tickets are $17 to $22; call 708-235-2222).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.