It is the first year that the National Ballet of Canada will not perform The Nutcracker live since 1955, due to the ongoing pandemic. The National Ballet is fortunate, then, to have on hand a recorded performance from 2008, which is available to watch at home via the Cineplex Store, or where permitted, screened in Cineplex theatres. At the family-friendly price of under $30 for home viewing, this year’s Nutcracker might bring joy to many and not only the privileged few.
And it’s a good production. The sound quality, glimpses of musicians of the National Ballet Orchestra in the pit and camerawork make it a pleasure to watch. The National Ballet’s Nutcracker, choreographed by James Kudelka in 1995, has a couple of main differences to other retellings of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic. Here, we find ourselves on Christmas Eve in Imperial Russia, and the story follows the journey of two siblings, Marie and Misha (danced by then students Stella Leowinata and Liam Redhead, who now dances with the Royal Danish Ballet) instead of the usual Clara. It’s not all sugar and spice though. At the holiday party hosted by their parents (Stephanie Hutchison and Etienne Lavigne), the siblings clash – and rather realistically, I’m afraid to say. The arrival of a mysterious Uncle Nikolai (Kevin D. Bowles) defuses the tension with party tricks, and a pair of dancing bears and a dancing horse.
After dark, the magic starts to happen, and the children find themselves caught in the middle of a battle of giant (rather cute) mice, all danced by students. Fortunately, the stalwart Nutcracker, charmingly danced by Piotr Stanczyk, current principal dancer, is there to save the day. And a moral upshot: Once the children learn to get along, they ride on an ice boat into a magical land, the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who lives in a huge Fabergé egg in a golden palace. I have never been to a performance of the Nutcracker where the audience doesn’t gasp at Santo Loquasto’s glorious design for the second act, and it is just as impressive on film.
The production is an enjoyable trip down memory lane for ballet fans, too, seeing dancers who are no longer with the company almost as though an encore. Paris Opera Ballet School trained Lise-Marie Jourdain delights as a sheep, whose bustled costume could not disguise her sharp footwork and lively jump. Former principal Xiao Nan Yu as the Snow Queen presides over a gorgeous snow scene set to the choral voices of Viva! Youth Singers of Toronto. It is principal Sonia Rodriguez as the Sugar Plum Fairy who shines brightest, and watching her is worth the price of admission alone.
The Nutcracker is available to enjoy from the comfort and safety of your home this December 4 to January 2 from the Cineplex Store. It is also available in select Cineplex theatres across Canada starting December 4 in jurisdictions not affected by the current lockdown.
Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.