See 'Nutcracker,' Johanson December in St. Petersburg

Mariinsky TheaterNew York-based Mikhail Shemyakin's unusual staging of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet shows at the Mariinsky Dec. 9.
With Christmas time approaching, what besides back-to-back-to-back performances of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" should you expect to find in St. Petersburg's cultural venues?

A whole lot else, as it turns out -- as well as, yes, scads of "Nutcracker" renderings, from the classic to the contemporary.

The latter variety will ironically be featured on a stage strongly connected to the ballet establishment, the famous Mariinsky Theater, where a controversial, avant-garde version directed by New York-based Russian artist Mikhail Shemyakin will be shown twice on Dec. 9. Experimental theater director and actor Anton Adasinsky will appear as Councilor Drosselmeyer, the mysterious godfather of Clara and Fritz who brings the toy nutcracker to the children as a gift. A safer, traditional version of the fairy tale will be offered by the Mikhailovsky Theater on Dec. 23, 24, 28 and 30.

The Mariinsky's December highlights also include the restored 1872 version of Modest Mussorgsky's opera "Boris Godunov" that follows the late film director Andrei Tarkovsky's 1983 production for London's Covent Garden (Dec. 9 and 10) and Edmund Meisel's original score to an uncensored rendition of Sergei Eisenstein's silent film "Battleship Potemkin" as performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra led by conductor Helmut Imig (Mariinsky Concert Hall, Dec. 14).

What Mariinsky's closest rival, the Mikhailovsky, has in store for December is "Pagliacci," or "Clowns," a new production of Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera directed by Italian film director Liliana Cavani (Nov. 29 and Dec. 5) as well as a concert by Romanian operatic soprano Angela Gheorghiu on Dec. 10. Mikhailovsky will also be one of the venues of the Arts Square Winter Festival on Dec. 14 to 24, which will open with a concert by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by maestro Yury Temirkanov at the Shostakovich Philharmonic.

If jazz is more your pace, check out the Erik Truffaz 4tet, a quartet led by a Swiss-born French trumpeter who developed his own form of nu-jazz, incorporating drum 'n' bass, hip-hop and rock rhythms (Music Hall, Dec. 7). For those heading up north later in the month, other worthy St. Pete jazz and blues venues include the Jazz Philharmonic Hall, a somewhat conservative place directed by musician David Goloshchokin, who ambitiously likes to compare his space to New York's Blue Note, and the more flexible JFC Club.

Although the big local rock promoters were reluctant to reveal their plans for the next year -- and rumor has it that those plans have been scrambled by the economic crisis -- one big-name act arriving in December is The Offspring, the popular Southern California 90s punk band formed by Orange County high school classmates Dexter Holland and Greg Kriesel. June saw the release of their eighth studio album, titled "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace," at least a few songs from which will surely be belted out by singer Holland when they perform their first-ever concerts in Russia early next month, including in the northern capital on Dec. 5 at the Ice Palace.

The rock club scene in the city has recently expanded with the opening of Glavclub, a large venue launched by Moscow promoter Igor Tonkikh earlier this month. Some big-name shows, such as one by Swedish crooner Jay-Jay Johanson on Dec. 6, will now be held at the place, the name of which translates as the "Main Club."

Johanson, now a sweetheart of the Moscow and St. Petersburg club circuits, made his local debut as an electro-pop singer backed by two laptop operators at the 2003 Stereoleto music festival in St. Pete. More recently, he has returned to his early, jazz-influenced style, a shift that's audible on his latest album "Self-Portrait." At Glavclub, Johanson will play accompanied by the same small group of jazz musicians that helped him record the album.

St. Petersburg's popular underground nighttime entertainment scene includes a trio of indie, no-techno bars Dacha, Fidel and Belgrad, based in the old building of Stary Gostiny Dvor on Dumskaya Ulitsa in the center. Although the bars announced that they would close in July -- as the company that owns the building had plans to develop it and asked the renters to leave -- and even threw farewell parties, the plans have been postponed, though their owners say they could be shut down any day now. As a result, December may well be the last possible time to visit the places frequented and beloved by students and carousing expats.

For addresses and more information about the events, see www.site.mariinsky.ru, www.mikhailovsky.ru, www.newarena.spb.ru, and www.glavclub.com.