True to its promise, The Nutcracker by The National Ballet of Canada delivers the magic and nostalgia awaited all year round by thousands. This year marks the company’s twentieth anniversary presenting the ballet, and it in no way looks outdated or stale.
At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, a tangible buzz of excitement fills the auditorium. Anxiously awaiting the beloved ballet, little girls in tutus bounce in their seats, and season regulars chat about what they are most excited to see. The fire of opening night is in the air.
James Kudelka, former artistic director of The National Ballet of Canada (1996-2005) and currently resident choreographer at Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, exquisitely brings festive tradition to life on stage. His choreography hits every A-list move, with big jetés, multiple pirouettes and dramatic lifts. Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s immortal tale of two young children’s journey through a fantastical dream of enchanted encounters, the choreography radiates the spirit of the holidays. The magnificent and equally anticipated score by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky weaves beautifully with the choreography to induce the feelings of possibility and imagination experienced by children.
Principal dancer McGee Maddox — as Peter, the stable boy, and The Nutcracker — demonstrates his dynamic dancing in powerful jumps and turns followed by quick footwork, all with the lightness of air. While onstage, he infects the audience with the joy and sincerity he evokes. Principal dancer Heather Ogden as the Sugar Plum Fairy majestically portrays the role coveted by every little girl and professional ballerina alike. Her delicate but strong arm gestures, turns and leaps evoke the confidence required to dance such an iconic role. Together, these dancers fulfill the audience’s every expectation with expert partnering and chemistry; although, as captivating as their multiple pas de deux are, they drag on just a bit too long. Xiao Nan Yu as the Snow Queen shows no hesitation as she dances, framed in a trio, with clarity and grace.
Dancing the roles of Marie and Misha, the two lead children, Jacqueline Sugianto and Adam Hone, immediately win over the hearts of the audience with their spritely and accurate dancing. The choreography exhibits the young dancers’ abilities — a refreshing treat to watch. A wonderful addition to the cast, Robert Stephen dances with vigour and groundedness as Uncle Nikolai.
Designed by Santo Loquasto, the costumes and sets sparkle and dazzle as they take us from reality to dreamland. The curtain rises on a cozy barn decorated for a family Christmas party. Trimmed in Russian-inspired architecture, the set creates the context for the Slavic-influenced footwork in the choreography, expertly and precisely performed by the partygoers dressed in thick fabrics and hats. The audience is audibly delighted by dancing bears and a dancing horse.
When Marie and Misha finally sleep after the party, their magical dream begins. A small Christmas tree bursts to enormity, launching the story well beyond reality. Act I closes in the extravagant land of the Snow Queen, when the set dramatically changes to a breathtaking white landscape full of glitter and shine. Act II takes place in the kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who lives in a stunning gold Fabergé egg within her palace. Designed by Jennifer Tipton, the lights illuminate the stage with cheerful brightness, further pulling us into the magical world.
The Nutcracker instills the spirit of the holidays in the audience, and to question the ballet’s currency would be to ignore the fact that we live in a tradition-fuelled culture. Kudelka’s The Nutcracker for The National Ballet is one of Toronto’s seasonal traditions where families can come together. It’s a worthwhile holiday event, even twenty years after its premiere.
The National Ballet of Canada performs The Nutcracker from December 12, 2015, through January 3, 2016, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.