The Nutcracker a tried and true holiday tradition
E.T.A. Hoffmann's story of The Nutcracker has become a holiday classic, one of the few that embodies the modest values of the season. Over the years, the National Ballet's adaptation, with choreography and libretto by James Kudelka, has also established itself as a celebration of family, togetherness, and Tchaikovsky's inspired music, while at the same time becoming a Toronto theatre tradition.
After over fifteen years, the ballet hasn't missed a step. The Nutcracker is still a wildly imaginative journey through the decadent and playful sights and sounds of the Christmas season. Like a richly detailed picture book come to life, the production is full of magic and humour, which all the while encourages audiences to contemplate the true themes of the holiday.
It's the night before Christmas and siblings Marie (Rebekah Bloomfield) and Misha (Simon McNally) are squabbling over a very special gift; a Nutcracker in the shape of a noble soldier from their Uncle Nikolai (Jiří Jelinek). After placing the gift under the Christmas tree, the two fall asleep and dream of journeying with the Nutcracker (Guillaume Côté) to the golden palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Heather Ogden). The dream culminates in a banquet in their honour, where they witness a collection of fantastical dances.
The transitional moment between reality and fantasy, when the children's Christmas tree seemingly explodes beyond the confines of the stage revealing the life-sized Nutcracker, is full of wonder. Set and costume designs from the incomparable Santo Loquasto continue to set this production apart.
Kudelka's libretto places an emphasis on the closeness of extended family. Baba, the nanny (Alejandra Perez-Gomez), and Peter, the stable boy (also Côté), all feature prominently in the children's dream. His interpretation on the courses of the banquet scene — chocolate, coffee, poultry, and the themes of the changing seasons — are incredibly clever and playful.
Côté once again brings style and charm to the lead male figure. It's an obviously more subtle performance than previous turns as Hamlet and Romeo, but he still commands the stage. Set against an icy winter setting, Xiao Nan Yu is incredibly majestic as the Snow Queen, and Jelinek finds a larger-than-life persona for Uncle Nikolai that matches the towering sets. But it's Ogden who leaves the lasting impression. Her Sugar Plum Fairy is dazzling, completing the most exciting movements of the show during the banquet scene.
The full National Ballet company and their younger counterparts from Canada's National Ballet School and schools throughout the GTA are effortlessly graceful. The dancers, young and old, who inhabit the production's many animals — mice, bears, sheep, and an energetic horse — are a definite highlight.
With Kudelka's incredible vision, Tchaikovsky's timeless music, and the efforts of world class dancers and students, The Nutcracker continues to be Toronto's most treasured holiday tradition.
The Nutcracker, by The National Ballet of Canada, runs at the Four Seasons Centre until January 5.
Lead photo by Bruce Zinger