The saddest thing about the “The Great Russian Nutcracker” performance Wednesday at George Mason University wasn’t the ironic name, or the sparsely sold orchestra seats, or the un­deserved standing ovation.

No, the saddest thing was the sold-out balcony. Presumably, middle-class families bought tickets hoping for a good value in holiday entertainment. What they got can’t even be called a cheap thrill. The Moscow Ballet, a pickup company of third-rate Russian dancers, is ripping off Americans in 60 cities this season with a show that’s dull, soulless and chintzy. But, unless you’ve seen ballet before, you might not know that.

Of the nearly 30 dancers onstage, only the lead female, playing Masha and the Sugar Plum Fairy, had the comparable skill of a corps dancer at a top American company. Three more — the “Arabian” contortionists and a “Chinese” acrobat — would make the cut at Cirque de Soleil.

That leaves about an hour to watch bored ballerinas step lazily through easy choreography. The fight? No one even clashed swords. The snow scene? They ran around in a circle with wands. During the “Waltz of the Flowers,” 16 dancers raised their legs however high they felt like it, which for most of them, wasn’t very. Let’s assume some producer was drunk when he decided that there should be violin-playing unicorns in the “Shepherd’s Dance,” which is, musically, a flute solo. The costumes were decent, but there were few props, and the dancers talked among themselves onstage.

Local ballet schools can hire a handful of professional dancers and put on a better “Nutcracker” than this. Students would at least perform with more heart.

“The Great Russian Nutcracker” continues its tour Friday at Strathmore. Tickets are, regrettably, sold out.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.