The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto is designed in all light wood and beautiful lines. On Saturday night, December 22, the centre was gleaming in its pristine architecture. As adults and children entered, many were carrying bags from the ballet shop in the lobby. The magic had already begun.
The Nutcracker opens unto a barn in Russia where Marie (Anna Neudorf) and her brother Misha ( Alexander Stevens) are excited about the annual Christmas Eve party. Peter (Skylar Campbell), their friend and stable boy is sweeping the barn before the party begins. As the guests arrive the dancing begins and the barn is filled with Russian folk dancing and much merriment. The National Ballet of Canada presents a first act which is filled with more dancing and action than in many other Nutcrackers. The rustic setting adds a charming flavour to the performance. The celebration ends when a mouse is spotted. A battle ensues between Peter and the army of mice. All ends well when the mice are driven out of the barn. There are lots of amusement in Act 1, for instance when Jack Bertinshaw (Uncle Nikolai) dances with his “horse.” There is an agrarian enchantment to the whole scene which was done with a high degree of sophistication, especially in the folk dancing which adds an extra dimension to the entire first act.
Scene 3 brings us to the Land of Snow with the Snow Queen (Hannah Fischer), Icicles (Ben Rudisin and Christopher Gerty), the Snow Maidens (Artists of the National Ballet of Canada), and the unicorns (Students of Canada’s National Ballet School). This is where the Nutcracker takes a celestial turn. Each dancer is an individual and separate snowflake. Together, they constitute a beautiful snowfall. Each pique and bourree is performed with precision and grace. The singing of the choir adds to elevate the Land of Snow into an extraordinary world.
The choreography of The Nutcracker is by James Kudelka and had its world premiere on December 21, 1995. The program notes that Kudelka served as Artistic Director ( 1996-2005 ) of The National Ballet of Canada. Along with The Nutcracker, he also staged Swan Lake and Cinderella for the company. Kudelka fills Tchaikovsky’s music with unique and inspiring choreography, the ballet is richer for this.
Set and costumes designs are by Santo Loquasto. The costumes for the Land of Snow are especially striking, as are the sets for Act I. This Nutcracker has a visual beauty to it, which shows throughout the entire production and gives it an altogether different and beautiful vision from other Nutcrackers.
Act II takes place in the Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy ( Jillian Vanstone ) who emerges from sapphire and gold Faberge egg. Vanstone is a brilliant dancer who shines on stage. Each sweet ushers in a new delight. First up is Spanish Chocolate which brings a Spanish flavour to the entertainment, and is a vibrant pas de deux. Arabian Coffee, which in many productions is done as a solo, is performed here as a quartet with many interesting patterns occurring between the two couples. Act II abounds with a fair amount of entertainment such as the dances of the fox, waiters and chefs.
A striking bee ( Rui Huang ) heralds the end of winter and the coming of spring. She throws open the way for the glorious dance of the Flowers and Branches which is performed by the Artists of the National Ballet of Canada. This also signals the end of the journey for Marie and Misha as they embark on their next adventure- leaving childhood behind.
Reviewed on December 22 at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts