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Alberta Ballet Company

December 6, 2012
Photo by Darren Makowichuk

Photograph by Darren Makowichuk

The Nutcracker

Reviewed December 5, 2012

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances through to December 9, 7 p.m., plus matinees)

As someone who has seen countless versions of The Nutcracker over the past 25 years, I’m still curious to experience how a new choreographer and a different ballet company bring this traditional larger-than-life magical story to life on the stage.

As old as this fanciful dream world of battling mice and sugar plum fairies is, The Nutcracker is synonymous with the Christmas season and a festive favourite, especially for children. Of course, the story opens on a Christmas Eve party, populated with plenty of children, presents and a magic show by the protagonist’s mysterious godfather. But it’s when the party is over that the real magic comes alive for this ballet.

I’ve seen versions set in Germany and even on the Canadian Prairies, but the Alberta Ballet’s production, created in 2008 by award-winning choreographer Edmund Stripe – who, by the way, performed as a soldier in Rudolph Nureyev’s version of The Nutcracker some 40 years ago — is set in turn-of-the-19th-century Imperial Russia.

Choreographers have been putting their own stamp on this classical Tchaikovsky ballet, which is based on Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, since it premiered in Russia in 120 years ago. Nevertheless, some elements are always recognizable, such as the elegant Christmas party and the magic act, the battle of the mice, the nutcracker’s transformation into a real live prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the ethnic dances.

Stripe worked on this $1.5-million production with American opera and ballet costume designer Zack Brown, and the result is an opulent Fabergé egg-like set and costumes that reflect an olden-day Russia. For example, the ballet opens on a quiet, wet Moscow streetscape at twilight.

The highlight of the first act takes place at the midnight hour, when a hush has fallen over the house and Klara is alone searching for her nutcracker doll. A dozen little dancers, plucked from local dance schools, scurry onto the stage clad in the most adorable mouse costumes. Other local dancers join the Alberta Ballet troupe to perform as pretty-frocked party guests, Cossack-costumed rats with slimy tails, smartly-attired toy soldiers and pretty-in-pink pages in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s palace.

Overall, Brown’s costumes are delightful – the Flower dancers wear Russian tutus and the Snowflakes are dressed like little czarinas. Wily white Arctic wolves pull the Snow Queen’s sleigh (some versions have reindeer) and the Queen’s world is a wondrous, wintry, sparkling one that delights. The falling snow at the end of Act One seems to go on forever, covering the dancing Snowflakes with a fine silvery coating that shimmers across the stage and against the starlit backdrop.

The ballet ends on the same Russian streetscape upon which it opens, but this time light snow is falling, leaving the audience with a little magical touch to take home.

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From → Ballet

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