Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

The current National Ballet of Canada's version of The Nutcracker was created in 1995 by choreographer James Kudelka.  I saw this version shortly after it debuted, and wasn't too impressed.  The story line has been twisted from what I'd call "the original" (although there have been so many variations, maybe there is no more "original"), and at that point having a party in a barn seemed completely weird and out of place.  Now, 17 years later, I figured it was time to give it another shot.  Plus who can resist the fantastic Tchaikovsky score performed live?

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At the Dec. 15 performance the Sugar Plum Fairy was principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson and Peter, a stable boy (aka: cavalier/the Prince in the second act), was Steven McRae.  He is a guest artist from The Royal Ballet who also appeared with the National Ballet last season in Alice in Wonderland.

Prior to the performance was a short skit by a grown up Misha and Marie (the two children replacing Clara and Fritz in this version) who recall the magical Christmas Eve that we, the audience, are about to see.  It was a great intro for children to the story (and for people who were expecting "the original").

Uncle Nikolai (danced by an unrecognizable Robert Stephen under the beard, hat, and 10lb costume) takes the place of Drosselmeyer, although is just as eccentric a character.  His female counterpart is the children's nurse, Baba (Alejandra Perez-Gomez)  This couple become a duke and empress in Act 2.  Other than some swapping of characters, and relocation to a barn, the party is still the majority of Act 1, followed by the growing Christmas tree and Mouse King fight.  What I do miss at the party is the duet of the wind up dancing dolls presented by Drosselmeyer.  This versions speciality party dance numbers involve a horse, and another with two bears (one on pointe shoes, the other on roller blades).
Otherwise, the children dance, the adults dance, and Peter dances.  In other versions I don't recall Peter being a main part of the party scene.  I remember him not really showing up until the Nutcracker magically comes alive when the clock strikes midnight.  There were some fun parts I didn't remember: the capture/release of a rat, and snow ball fight come to mind.   The mice that crawled out from under the children's beds were adorable.

The snowflake waltz which closes Act 1, is one of my favourite scenes.  I adore the music, and I love they symmetry of the dancers as they create complex patterns and dance amongst each other.  Elena Lobsanova, McGee Maddox, and Aarik Wells were the Snow Queen and her Icicles trio.

Highlights in the second act were the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (exquisitely executed, although hopping on one foot on pointe has got to be a killer) the Spanish Chocolate, and Arabian Coffee dances.  The double pas de deux in Coffee was very well done, there were even double fish lifts.  The Trepek involved Peter and there was no Chinese Dance.
Heather Ogden as the Sugar Plum Fairy
There was a lively segment involving chefs preparing a feast for Marie and Misha, including leaping over the table, and another adorable piece for the students of the National Ballet School as sheep.  In place of a Dewdrop Fairy, a bee started off the Waltz of the Flowers.  Peter and the Sugar Plum Fairy fall in love and the resulting pas de deux was lovely.  I'd classify it as more traditional in the purpose being to show off the ballerina, but he had plenty of other opportunities to shine.
Empress Baba and Sheep
I still prefer the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker and wouldn't want to make this a yearly tradition, but once every 5 or so years, it's worth checking out.

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