Christmas has arrived in Vancouver, with Ballet BC welcoming Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker - a grand-scale production with a distinct Canadian touch.
*All references to the cast were made to the Saturday, Dec 10 matinee performance.
Attending Nutcracker is one of my favourite holiday traditions, and this year for the first time I had the pleasure of watching Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s (RWB) version. I was intrigued when I heard that they did their own unique Canadian version of the show. So how is RWB’s Canadian-themed version? It's the ballet equivalent of enjoying a classy maple and bacon donut, or a gourmet poutine, or a Caesar made with Grey Goose vodka...you get the idea.
The opening scrim, which depicts a rustic, Canadian home in the midst of winter, resembles the illustration from a Tim Horton’s winter coffee cup. And as the scrim rises, it’s like the image on a Tim’s cup coming to life. Brian Perchaluk’s set design is beautiful, taking us to places such as an early 19th century Canadian home, a skating pond, and the Nutcracker Prince’s whimsical land. It’s like witnessing a Canadianized Thomas Kinkade painting coming to life onstage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Like the traditional version of Nutcracker, the opening scene sees the arrival of guests as they enter a home for a family Christmas party. But there’s distinctive Canadian flavour, with two boys playing street hockey, and a family pulling their child in a toboggan.
Then there’s a bit of surprise – instead of the scrim rising to reveal the Christmas party, we are actually taken into Clara’s room (Kelsey Miller), as she prepares for the party. This is where the story differs from the traditional one – in a good way. We get to see a little more of story involving Clara and her family. Young Miller is also very charming and poised in the role of Clara.
The party scene is fabulous – so much more fun than the traditional Nutcracker. Instead of having to endure watching young children doing elementary-level ballet for an extended period of time (which is usually the case), we get fantastic, world-class ballet right off the bat from the RWB company.
The story has expanded to include the character of eccentric Aunt Josephine (Elizabeth Lamont) who arrives with her fiancé Edouard (Tyler Carver). Elizabeth Lamont is dynamite in the role of Josephine, demonstrating sassy style and fierce technique, including a spectacular series of fouette turns. As her partner, Carver has a very dashing presence onstage and his long lean lines are beautiful.
There’s a lot of humour throughout the show, with dancers dressed as life-sized mice and bears. The children dancers have been incorporated very well. To make it accessible for local children to be subbed into the show (this is a touring production from Winnipeg), the kids make cameo appearances throughout and aren’t involved in lengthy dance sequences. When they do make an appearance onstage, they usually get a crowd reaction of “awwww”, as they’re usually dressed in an assortment of adorable costumes, including mice, Royal Mounted Police and my favourite…. fluffy white polar bears costumes.
In this version, it’s made very clear that the story of Clara journeying to the Nutcracker world is a dream. So instead of dancing the entire show as Clara, young Miller only plays the role in the beginning, with Jo-Ann Sundermeier taking over in the dream. She partners with Josh Reynolds as the Nutcracker Prince. The two of them make excellent duo. Sundermeier has clean technique and Reynolds is solid partner.
In the second act, corps member Luzemberg Santana stands out exquisitely with his outstanding performance. Not only is he a terrific dancer but his facial expressions are delightful. He feels every note of music and has a special quality that radiates brightly.
Thiago Dos Santos is also excellent as Drosselmeier, showcasing amazing elevation in his jumps, great partnership skills and versatility, as he dances in a number of different pieces in the show including Spanish and Chinese.
The Spanish section in this production is stylish and sexy. Nowhere to be found are clunky character shoes and the traditional Flamenco interpretation. Instead, we have Katie Bonnell and Sarah Po Ting Yeung jumping, turning and showing off their fabulous extensions, while Santos adds commanding flair to the piece.
The Chinese section is a crowd-pleaser, with Chenxin Liu and Santos doing some very cute moves to the delight of the audience. The Arabian section is well-done and very interesting – with some inventive contemporary choreography and floor work. However, it would have been nice to have seen more of the incredible lifts and extreme flexibility moves that the piece is known for. That being said, dancers Sarah Davey and Egor Zdor are solid, and at one point, Zdor rotates Davey in a promenade in arabesque by turning her supporting leg while he is on the floor – an exceedingly difficult move.
The famous Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux is well done by Jaimi Deleau and her partner, climaxing with a tremendous overhead fish lift and a thrilling dismount. Later on, the male dancer performing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s partner at this performance also demonstrated a nice series of pirouettes in seconde position to the left, cumulating in a triple attitude turn.
The ending of the story ties everything back to the Canadian theme of this show, with Clara and a few of her family members (including her little brother wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket) running out into the winter evening. It’s a lovely ending to an outstanding show.
Incorporating a Canadian theme into this cherished classic works really well. Audiences are able to relate to the show a little more and it’s entertaining to see Canadian references like hockey weaved in.
As well, it’s fantastic to see the world-renowned RWB onstage here in Vancouver. The company is technically proficient and have some distinctive qualities. For example, many of the female dancers land very softly from their jumps – which is very evident in the Dance of the Snowflakes section. The usual clunky sounds of pointe shoes were absent. And the men in the company all jump tremendously well. It’s exciting to see them spring off the floor into the numerous double tours en l’airs throughout the show.
For me, the standout dancers at yesterday’s matinee performance were Elizabeth Lamont, Luzemberg Santana and Thiago Dos Santos.
RWB’s Nutcracker was worth seeing, not only because the show is a holiday classic and because RWB’s version has a distinct Canadian flavour – but also because it’s not often that Vancouver gets to see classical ballet on this grand a scale. RBW’s Nutcracker was an early Christmas gift to ballet fans here in Vancouver. Thank you to Ballet BC for hosting Royal Winnipeg Ballet's production.