Where: Royal Theatre
When: Final performance, Sunday 2 p.m.
Rating: four (out of five)
For most young folk, the Christmas tradition of attending The Nutcracker is capivating. Ditto for adults — although over-familiarity with Tchaikovsky’s greatest hit can make it more duty than pleasure.
The good news is that the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s adaptation (shortened simply to “Nutcracker”) adds sufficient new twists to make the ballet enjoyable — even for the most jaded dance devotee.
You know Nutcracker is different right off the top when dancers on roller-blades play hockey in front of a grand house. This is a Canadianized Nutcracker set in 1913. The unorthodox approach is most evident in Act I where we see, for instance, Mounties in bearskin hats defending a doll’s house modelled after the Parliament buildlings.
The inclusion of bears (yes, bears) in Nutcracker is the most eyebrow-raising Canuck touch. A grizzly named Filbert infiltrates the family mansion. The bear pilfers a cake and threatens to steal the scene as well — but thankfully, these crowd-pleasing hijinx are not overdone. Speaking of bears, a platoon of polar cubs (local ballet students) resembling giant cotton balls earned the sole collective “Awww!” at Friday night’s performance.
Don’t worry. This production, choreographed by Galina Yordanova and Nina Menon, contains sufficient grand jetés and sharply-executed pirouettes to satisfy serious dance aficionados. The RWB, bringing its Nutcracker to Victoria for the first time, displayed the high standard for which the company is renowned. And the Victoria Symphony played well, capturing the do-or-die romanticism of the score with every violin swell, horn crescendo and xylophone flourish.
A highlight of Nutcracker is the Grand Pas, danced by Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Danced on this evening by Yayoi Ban and Liang Xing, the sequence was danced with an almost geometrical precision — although beautiful, it was perhaps a little cold in its execution.
The Land of the Sweets section is a whirlwind trip around the globe — a 19th century interpretation of the “exoticness” of such foreign lands as China, Spain and Arabia. These dances are sometime an excuse for overblown shenanigans. By contrast, the RWB's approach is tasteful, even restrained, as evidenced by the athletic Russian dance, which sidestepped the show-boating favoured by some dance companies.
In this Nutcracker, Drosselmeier (on this night danced superbly by Thaigo Dos Santos) is less of a mysterious, magical figure than an affable host. Curiously, he takes part in some of the Act II bon-bon dances. Also different, the role of Clara is shared by two dancers, Ban and Saeka Shirai, the latter a recent RWB school graduate showing great promise.
Above all, this a spectacular looking production. The backdrops (of which there are many), props and costumes are particularly lavish, making this the most visually stunning Nutcracker I’ve ever seen.
If you get the chance (and if there are tickets left) it’s worth catching the RWB’s Nutcracker, one of the most memorable to visit our city.