BWW Review: The National Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER is a Dazzling Tradition for All Ages
His melodies are timeless. Tchaikovsky's most popular ballet has become a holiday tradition for audiences across the globe. Lucky for us Torontonians, The National Ballet of Canada's annual production of THE NUTCRACKER is a dazzling masterpiece.
Featuring classical choreography by James Kudelka and lavish costumes by Santo Loquasto, NBC's THE NUTCRACKER is a fierce display of dance virtuosity set against stunning costumes and colossal, unforgettable sets. Scenes transition with ease, each one sweeping into a more awe-inspiring visual landscape than the last, setting the stage for a brilliant display of dance.
The ballet begins in a barn in 19th-century Russia, on Christmas Eve. Peter (Harrison James), the stable boy, sweeps the barn in preparation for the annual Christmas Eve Party. As Peter, James is a handsome thrill to watch. His dancing throughout the ballet is free, his jumps explode with energy and soar with height, and his landings (arguably the most impressive aspect of his dancing) are firm and precise.
Guests begin to arrive at the party in a flurry of movement, filling the stage to the brim with dancers young and old, and unifying all in a traditional Russian dance of elaborate foot choreography. Exhausted from dancing, the guests bid adieu for the evening, as the children turn in for the night. During the night, the children Marie and Misha enter the most vivid of dreams, transforming their bedroom into a battleground of life-sized toys, mice and demonic cats.
Although the kids in the audience are surely entertained by the grandeur and magnificence of the piece, there are several cute cameos that get some laughs from the fascinated spectators. The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and her son took to the stage as the canon dolls on December 9, joining a cast of adorable characters that includes rollerblading bears, a dancing horse, an adorable herd of sheep and a pile of plump mice.
The Nutcracker (also James) comes to life to save the day, transporting the children to a magical land of dancing snowflakes. As the Snow Queen, Jenn Savella welcomes the guests in one of the ballet's most gorgeous scenes. Plagued by a hue of baby blue, snow falls from the ceiling of the theatre as the Snow Queen whips winter across the stage.
Continuing their adventure, the children arrive at the secret kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sonia Rodriguez). Emerging from her golden Fabergé egg, Rodriguez' dancing is well executed, flaunting her impressive balance on point and while pirouetting. But it's Rodriguez' presence that is so striking. Gliding across the stage with effortless grace, her elegant, fluid arms help preserve the magic of her fairy-presence.
At the palace, the children are pampered with a generous meal, including multiple courses, all presented through dance, of course. Before returning home, inspired by the magic of their dream, the children watch the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance an intimate pas-de-deux. Set to one of the most beautiful themes in Tchaikovsky's score, a simple descending scale, James and Rodriguez infuse the dance with as much chemistry as the choreography allows for.
Kudelka's choreography is impressive and very eloquent, and the dancers of the National Ballet do it tremendous justice - but I can't help feeling that the choreography lacks passion. In the structure of Kudelka's work, there is a greater weight placed on technical elements, than on the physical transmission of pure emotion.
Nevertheless, we are extremely fortunate in Canada to have access to such a delicious production of this classic ballet - its luxurious magic spurs the Christmas spirit inside all of us.
The National Ballet of Canada's THE NUTCRACKER runs through December 30, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Performances are selling out, so get your tickets now at national.ballet.ca
Main photo credit: Harrison James with Students of Canada's National Ballet School and Artists of the Ballet in THE NUTCRACKER, photo by Karolina Kuras.