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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LOVE AND DEATH: Barbie Replaces Nutcracker

Of all the conversations there are to be had about Russia, the ones concerning ballet are by far the most upsetting. There is simply a necessary limit to how far one should go in defense of classical dance repertoire, especially in a country where there is virtually nothing else offered. "The ballet!" people sigh, pressing their hand to their heart in a gesture of humble deference. What they're actually thinking is, "Do we have to see 'Les Sylphides' again?" It's time to take that gorgeous Bolshoi technique and wrap it around something interesting. Here are a few suggestions for ways to spring ballet into the 20th century:

Nutcracker: The Final Reckoning - Young Clara awakes on Christmas morning and heads straight for the presents lying under the yolka. She tears open her gift and is distraught to discover that she has been given a nutcracker when she distinctly asked for a Barbie doll. Defiantly nipping from her grandfather's vodka bottle, Clara falls back into a deep sleep. A colorful dream sequence follows, during which she is entertained by apparitions of sweets andplastic hair ornaments. The mood is festive until a fight breaks out between Krasny Oktyabr and the rival Snickers faction, which deliberately misses its cue and fouls up the pivotal Krasnaya Shapochka sequence. Battle lines are drawn, and innocent childhood dreams end in chaos as sponsors disguised as giant rats invade the apartment.

L'apr?s-midi d'une phone - A bold, modernist interpretation of the life of a cellular telephone in entrepreneurial Moscow. The soloist, wearing only a black unitard, spends much of the performance in frenzied transit between the ear of a mid-level thug and the stuffy darkness of his Hugo Boss jacket. Several casual misadventures spotlight the poignant isolation of wireless communication equipment, as the phone is alternately dropped, sat on and mistakenly left behind at the banya. In a riveting climax, the phone marks its final moments in the working world being used as a blunt object in the impromptu murder of a deadbeat kiosk owner, after which it is dumped into the Yauza River.

Swanless Lake - The last two remaining swans in St. Petersburg's Summer Garden are summarily assassinated by two teenage boys playing with a sniper's rifle purchased that afternoon at the local rynok. The crowd of onlookers is nonplused, but eventually a police officer steps forward and apprehends the boys, disgruntled that they possess a better firearm than he. Act 2 opens in juvenile court, with the boys' attorney delivering an articulate defense on the grounds that "birds are stupid." Consulting several scientific texts, the judge is forced to concur, and the boys are not only released but awarded a special governor's prize for Constructive Violence. The ballet ends with a mournful but stirring final scene as the city's remaining squirrels and ducks relocate to Vsevolozhsk.

Coup?lia - A modest but proud provodnik raises his motherless daughter the best way he knows how - by slapping rouge on her cheeks and teaching her everything he knows about life on the railroad. She is a quick study, but her hidden taste for power has tragic consequences for her doting father. Promoted to the upper echelons of the Railways Ministry by the age of 23, she has her father thrown in jail for misappropriation of bed linens. As the curtain closes, Coup?lia patiently outlines the rationale behind her decision while hoisting a basket of jam and bread to her father's prison cell window. Realizing he taught his daughter well, the broken provodnik grants his forgiveness, moments before succumbing to tuberculosis.

Roman and Yulia - A funky new twist on the timeless theme of star-crossed teenage lovers. Married at 18, Yulia dutifully holds two jobs and keeps her one-room apartment sparkling clean. Her husband, Roman, an unemployed artist, spends his time cleaning his brushes and decrying the deplorable cultural ignorance of a society that refuses to pay big bucks for his surrealist renderings of Persian kittens.

All is well until one winter night when he brings home a collective of similarly disenfranchised artists and is furious to realize that Yulia has prepared soup but no second course. Exhausted from a double shift at the meat-processing plant, Yulia forgets herself and suggests that Roman consider cooking something himself. Overhearing the commotion, neighbor wives run in and berate Yulia for tampering with gender conventions. Consumed with remorse, Yulia leaps from an 18th-story balcony to her death. Roman, distraught to realize he now has no one to clean for him, is quickly betrothed to another girl in the building and general revelry ensues.