BALLET REVIEW: THE NUTCRACKER
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
16 DEC 2013
The weather outside was certainly frightful but, of course, inside the Four Seasons Centre Saturday evening, it was nothing short of delightful — although no one was foolish enough to sing a chorus or two of "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…" for the gathered crowd. And frankly, why would they? Not only did Mother Nature need no such encouragement, the audience happily had other things on its mind.
It was the first unofficially official night of the Christmas season here in Toronto — the night the artists of the National Ballet of Canada and a few hundred of their closest friends from the National Ballet School and similar institutions band together once again to weave a magical Christmas tapestry out of threads spun by composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, author E.T.A. Hoffman, choreographer James Kudelka and designer Santo Loquasto.
And frankly, unless one were stuck behind the wheel of a car, the snow falling outside when glimpsed through those glorious glass curtain walls at intermission, simply added to the magic as THE NUTCRACKER exploded onto the stage in a swirling vision of seasonal spirit once again.
By now, of course, the NUTCRACKER story — or at least the version told by the NBOC — is familiar to most, a timeless tale of siblings in the time of the Russian Czars. On a winter's night, young Marie (Houston Toews) and her brother Misha (Tristan Brosnan) find themselves sharing a dream-like adventure, when their Nutcracker (Guillaume Côté) — a Christmas gift from the mysterious Uncle Nikolai (Jonathan Renna) — comes to life and sweeps them off to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Greta Hodgkinson), aboard a magical sled conjured by a beautiful snow queen (Xiao Nan Yu).
In the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Marie and Misha are entertained not only by the their hostess, who lives in a beautiful Fabergé egg, but by her subjects as well. A beautiful sheep and a wily fox (Chelsy Meiss and Giorgio Galli repectively), a bunch of adorable lambs, a bumblebee (Tanya Howard) and a whole garden of flowers dance for them, before the children are whisked back to the bedroom where the adventure began. It is a simple, timeless story, wonderfully told in a fashion that just never seems to grow old, filled with the magic of dancing horses, roller-skating bears and simple childhood that is as evergreen as the giant tree that sprouts mid-stage and mid-story.
But it is also a glorious evening of ballet for the entire family, for while the younger set thrills to the timelessness of the tale, parents can get lost not only in the delight that comes from watching children like Toews and Brosnan throw their hearts into their performances, supported by the impeccable artistry of dancers like Hodgkinson (who in her character's signature dance seems to have chimes instead of toes) and Côté (an artist who can not only bring nobility to the stable boy Peter, but boyishness to the Nutcracker, as well.)
Take one snow storm, add the National Ballet's NUTCRACKER — and you've got more delightful Christmas magic than you can shake a stick at.