Against a wintery Russian Christmas Eve backdrop featuring an illuminated town hall clock, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker got underway last night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, performed by the Alberta Ballet with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
The holiday tale of a Russian family gathering at the turn of the 20th century is timeless. As the Vishinsky family’s party carries on with dances and whimsical moments for the Nutcracker children, the audience is introduced to Klara Vishinksy’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (David Neal), at which point the music grows ominous to match the mood of this rather unique family member.
During the first act, a dance performed by Grandfather (Blair Puente) and Babushka (Beverly Bagg) steal the scene. Grandfather, a wheelchair bound former General, gathers his strength to work an entertaining dance at the end of the party. I admired how he must have practiced dancing with a limp in his step, and the technical challenges he faced while speeding up the tempo to end the dance in a comical fashion.
The costumes, from mice to foxes to graceful ballerinas are beautiful. The stage sets are gorgeous, in some cases glittering against the lighting. The Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy is elaborately detailed, including a bejeweled staircase. I was amazed at how the lighting beautifully accentuated both the costumes and the magic of the scenery.
The dance numbers that take place in the Palace are all wonderful in both their choreography and choice of costumes. The three Arabian dancers was a highlight of the Palace dance sequences, performed by lithe dancers Tara Williamson, David Neal, and Garrett Groat.
Akiko Ishii played lead role Klara in last night’s performance, and her dancing is brilliant. Together with Yukichi Hattori (who I had the pleasure of watching dance this fall in Love Lies Bleeding, another Alberta Ballet production), they make a great pair, as Karl morphs into a human nutcracker.
Watching a pack of cossack rats in costume battle it out with an army of nutcrackers is not only engaging for the kids, but I noticed grownups enjoying this colourful scene as well. The Rat Tsar’s costume is a particular stand out, complete with lime green boots, and worn last night by Nicholas Pelletier. The wooden dolls liven the stage with wooden movements combined with ballet, and work this technical ability to perfection.
From one beautiful scene to the next, the story finally winds down, back in the old street at the doorstep of the house where the story began. Again, the Alberta Ballet surprised us with their sensual take on a classic ballet. The Nutcracker children also keep very well in step, creating an atmosphere of merriment throughout the evening.
I can imagine just about every little girl in the sold out audience wanting to grow up one day to wear one of those costumes and tiaras. I can’t think of a more festive and happier production to enjoy during the holidays.
The Nutcracker’s remaining performances are tonight (December 29) and Friday (December 30) at 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm matinee on Friday and Saturday (December 30 and 31). Tickets can be purchased online or by phoning 1.855.985.2787.
Photos courtesy of Darren Makowichuki and Drew Meyers.