What: The Gift of Pandora’s Box
Where: Royal Theatre
When: Continues through Sunday
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
Those who dare diddle with The Nutcracker do so at their own risk.
Tchaikovsky’s ballet is, after all, an entrenched tradition for middle-class families. It’s a semi-sacred Christmastime must-do. We must have our Drosselmeyer, our gingerbread soldiers, our prancing mice and the danse des mirlitons (what is a mirliton, anyway?).
With The Gift of Pandora’s Box, Ballet Victoria has once more fiddled with a classic with the notion of making ballet accessible for the modern audience. Artistic director Paul Destrooper has embraced this approach since taking over the company (past productions melded ballet with Pink Floyd, k.d. lang and Gershwin). The odd purist might frown — however, Destrooper manages it all with wit and intelligence. And, as they have with this latest offering, Ballet Victoria never forgets to shoehorn bona fide classical ballet into the mix.
In terms of narrative, The Gift of Pandora’s Box is 80 per cent Nutcracker with a few new twists. Clara is now Pandora (sweetly danced by Cassidy Brumby), a girl who out of curiosity opens a mysterious box. What pops out are not the evils of the world, but a cornucopia of characters who seem to have escaped Act II of The Nutcracker. But this isn’t quite The Nutcracker; audiences will notice plenty of new flourishes.
At one point Pandora, squeezed into a silver suitcase, is speared with sword-like candy canes (don’t worry folks, she survives). This is followed by crowd-pleasing samples of the macarena, the Chicken Dance and Gangnam Style dance. And finally (spoiler alert) the evening is capped by an appearance by Santa himself, who deposits gifts under the tree to the tune of Frosty the Snowman. This last touch is corny perhaps, but overall, The Gift of Pandora’s Box works rather well. There’s enough of the old to satisfy; there’s sufficient new to make us wonder what will happen next.
One of this production’s strengths is creating a spectacle using very little. For instance, when Pandora opens the box, a clever projected lighting effect portrays a ghostly spirit rising up. It’s quite wonderful. True, in this ballet the Christmas tree doesn't magically expand to the rafters à la The Nutcracker. Yet well-chosen lights and a tree-decorating ritual provide a theatrical sense of occasion. So do faux-snowflakes gently wafting down. This is old-school theatre smoke-and-mirrors, proving that a little can indeed go a long way.
The Gift of Pandora’s Box uses mostly the recorded score of The Nutcracker, with a little of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien thrown in as well. The choreography — mostly classically based — is Destrooper’s. Balletomanes will enjoy well executed pas de deux sequences, one with Destrooper as Jack Frost and the tutued Andrea Bayne as the Fairy of Hope (the Sugarplum Fairy), the other partnering her with Robb Beresford. On Thursday, Bayne exhibited exquisite control, grace and precision — providing some of the evening’s very best dance.
Not everything quite matched this high calibre; some of the ensemble work could have been tighter.
Still, this is a well-rehearsed, well-performed production. Brumby and fellow students from the Victoria Academy of Ballet and the PTP Bridge Program acquitted themselves particularly well. This was no token inclusion, these young people were really dancing — and holding their own with professionals.
A nice touch was having two competent pianists — Jane Edler-Davis and Wendy Stofer — play the grand piano in tandem for part of the ballet.
This particular evening marked, to the very day, the 10th anniversary of Ballet Victoria’s founding. Remarkably, this company has survived in a smaller city despite challenging economic times. That Ballet Victoria does so with such verve and artistry is a testament to hard work, high standards and dogged determination.
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