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article imageReview: 'The Nutcracker' shines and shimmers in Toronto Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Dec 15, 2014 in Entertainment
Toronto - Wonder, whimsy, delight, and fantasy — The National Ballet of Canada’s annual production of 'The Nutcracker' is sheer delight. The production retains its splendor and beauty close to two decades years after making its debut.
On now through January 3rd at Toronto's Four Seasons For The Performing Arts, the work is a gorgeous integration of light, sound, color, and movement, and provides a lovely introduction to dance for young and old alike.
James Kudelka’s production creates a Russian-flavored tale that places the work firmly within the world of its luscious Tchaikovsky score. The story, of two children who enter a wonderland of imagination on Christmas Eve, with the aid of a magical nutcracker, is a staple of The National Ballet’s holiday season, and a feast for the eyes — and the ears, for as much as the show is a triumph of design and choreography, The National Ballet Orchestra must also be given full credit for its gorgeous performance. Under the baton of Earl Stafford, the ensemble, offers a sublime interpretation that perfectly modulates between tenderness, drama, and wonder, with a lovely interplay between woodwinds, strings, brass sections, and the sonorous sounds of VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto. The musicians render a smart if careful base of theatricality to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, one that colors the dancers, and indeed, the sets and smart lighting (by Jennifer Tipton) to sublime effect.
The beloved dancing (and rollerskating)  bears  from The National Ballet of Canada s annual producti...
The beloved dancing (and rollerskating) "bears" from The National Ballet of Canada's annual production of 'The Nutcracker.'
Bruce Zinger
With sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto, the production moves easily between the historic and the fantastical, its elements nicely balancing the fussy visuals of its Eastern European roots with a shimmering, storybook whimsy. This balance is reflected in the smart movement between various set pieces; the Dickensian colors and rich fabrics in the opening ‘village’ scenes nicely transform into bright, vital tones in the second scene of Act I, in the Battle of the Tsar and the Mice, and later, the cool, icy shades in the Land of Snow. These design contrasts are not only great reflections of Tchaikovsky’s luscious score, but offer neat character sketches, and more than enough diversity to satisfy the many young audience members who might pick out one or two favorite amidst the buffet of visual riches, which includes an array of charmingly whimsical elements: a jaunty “horse,” with its kicking back end and nifty dance moves; the giant bears (one on tiptoe, the other "skating," with the aid of rollerblades), small lambs (young girls in delicate white and black costumes); the giant, moving Christmas tree, with its hypnotically swaying branches. Each component is an inherent part of this production’s great charm and the ballet's continued appeal, through years and generations of Torontonians.
Robert Stephen  with a very saucy  horse   in The National Ballet of Canada s production of  The Nut...
Robert Stephen, with a very saucy "horse," in The National Ballet of Canada's production of 'The Nutcracker.'
Bruce Zinger
Stand-out dancing also characterizes much of the show, with Robert Stephen, who doubles in the roles of Uncle Nikolai and Grand Duke Nikolai, providing a wiry, magnetic presence (one rather more sexy than avuncular, though I’m not complaining) and Guillaume Cote, in a strong, likeable performance as Peter the Stable Boy. His leaps become poetic, as every move is infused with a confident joy and a careful consideration of integrating sound with movement. Though he made a painful landing that forced an early exit on Saturday evening, Cote’s replacement, Keiichi Hirano, radiated an equal joy through his confident, graceful movements, Kudelka’s steps becoming infused with the dancer’s own personality and integrating seamlessly with the orchestra.
Artists of the Ballet in  The Nutcracker.
Artists of the Ballet in 'The Nutcracker.'
Bruce Zinger
The Nutcracker also features good ensemble dancing, with the ladies in white (in the second act) offering particularly stunning pointe work, their silvery rounded crowns complementing Loquasto’s wondrous design scheme of blue, silver, and white. The “Flowers” of Act Two, while blighted by a minor collision at one point and a dancer losing balance at another, were nonetheless deeply charming, their colored skirts (with petal-like, scalloped edges) nicely complementing their fancy footwork and offering a lighter textural feel to the heavier winter colors of earlier scenes.
The Nutcracker's second act, with Greta Hodgkinson’s Sugar Plum Fairy, opens with a mix of the dainty and the steely. Hodgkinson nicely balances strength and delicacy, infusing her work with both a human warmth and an icy cool confidence that makes for beguiling viewing. Her pas de deux with Hirano in the final act was characterized by a fearless combination of control and passion. The various sections that follow — Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chefs, Flowers and Branches — offered visual delights and fine dancing, with the quartet in Arabian Coffee providing a sexy, sensuous presence, the men’s open-chested purple outfits offering a spicy counterpoint to the saccharine nature of The Nutcracker’s sugar-plum world.
Students of Canada s National Ballet School in  The Nutcracker.
Students of Canada's National Ballet School in 'The Nutcracker.'
Bruce Zinger
There really is something for everyone in this annual spectacle, one The National Ballet should rightly be proud of. Long may it reign as one of the finest Toronto Christmas traditions.
More about The Nutcracker, Ballet, Guillaume Cote, national ballet, national ballet of canada
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