McALLEN — Behind the big, red curtain here at the McAllen Performing Arts Center, two dancers sit on the floor while another stands across from them as they prepare for the show. A large backdrop depicting a Christmastime ballroom with portraits serving as hints of the show to come stands nearby.
The backdrop is hand-painted and one of several that are 30 feet high and 50 feet wide. These along with props — all designed exclusively in Russia — make up the decor on display Sunday at the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” show.
To bring this show to the Rio Grande Valley, the Moscow Ballet collaborated with local dance studios to help put on the performance.
The local dancers trained with some of the professional dancers from the ballet.
From Ukraine, Bogdana Kopiy, 28, was dressed as a soldier with a red coat and gold detail — one of four characters she was playing Sunday. She was expected to meet and take photos with fans out in the center’s lobby.
Bogdana is also one of the teachers that worked closely with the dancers from local schools.
“For me, this is so good experience to which I think will give me many, many things for my future,” Bogdana said. “In teaching you have to be so attentive to the kids and I also love dancing. I appreciate kids dance with us.”
Bogdana, who has been dancing since she was 5 years old, began professionally dancing at 10. She began with Talmi Entertainment, the company behind the ballet, in 2013.
“I hope people will enjoy our performance. It’s so colorful and it’s so happy. And I think it’s a little more feel (of) Christmas atmosphere,” Bogdana said.
Colorful indeed. There were a pair of Russian nesting dolls at both ends of the stage ready to be wheeled out for a scene.
“It’s a prop heavy show,” producer Dan Talmi said.
Talmi is a part of his family’s business, Talmi Entertainment.
There’s also a tall prop of the Russian-designed Rat King along with several animal heads, such as an elephant, a bear and a bull. The animal theme runs throughout the Moscow Ballet’s adaptation of “The Nutcracker.”
Several of the vacuform for the props were created by a man named Nino, who also works in props for Broadway, Talmi said. The backdrops and the costumes are handmade in Russia.
“In many Nutcracker variations, Masha and the prince go to the Land of Sweets. In Moscow Ballet’s version, they are transported to the land of peace and harmony where the different cultures are able to express their gifts,” Talmi said. “You have this interweaving of international cultures all throughout the actual storyline of the ballet and then throughout, sort of, the public collaborations and interactions with the community.”
The Moscow Ballet has come to the Valley for about five years.
“It’s a responsive community. The people like coming to the arts here,” Talmi said. “We tour everywhere. There’s 150 cities on the tour and the people, the culture here is so different and so distinct from Boston or even the west coast.”
It’s important to the ballet that the company integrate a child component by using local dancers at every single stop of the tour.
Prior to the shows, they hold auditions then trail and work closely with dance studios.
“It’s a very inclusive process. We want as many families and children as possible to be involved,” Talmi said. “Everybody is welcomed to participate.”
Beyond the stage, the auditorium in the McAllen Performing Arts Center is full of attendees. Some have bouquets of roses in hand, while others carry memorabilia purchased out in the lobby.
They all eagerly waited for the curtain to rise.