- Title: The Nutcracker
- Staging by: James Kudelka
- Company: National Ballet of Canada
- Venue: The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W.
- City: Toronto
- Year: Dec. 10-31, 2022
‘Tis the season to partake in time-honoured wintry Toronto traditions. The Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square, hot chocolate at the festively lit Distillery District and, of course, the National Ballet of Canada’s beloved production of The Nutcracker.
James Kudelka’s interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ubiquitous holiday ballet premiered in 1995 and has been delighting audiences ever since. The story of squabbling siblings Marie (Harin Kim) and Misha (Lucas Ayranto) is an adaptation of a short story by E.T.A Hoffmann. After a visit from their mysterious Uncle Nikolai (Spencer Hack), they are gifted a nutcracker who comes to life as they are whisked away to a magical dreamland once they fall asleep. It’s a place where, while wolfhounds, demon cats and evil mice do battle, the Nutcracker chases love. It’s a charming allegory for leaving childhood innocence behind and transitioning into adolescence.
Kudelka’s spirited choreography features impressive numbers both large and small, including the most delightful pas de trois with the Snow Queen (Calley Skalnik) and her Icicles (Peng-Fei Jiang and Ben Rudisin), and of course the romance between the Nutcracker (Guillaume Côté) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Heather Ogden), who are captivating together. The costumes are lush and colourful, and the sets are fantastically ornate – the tree alone features 700 handmade ornaments – creating a wonderful dreamscape for the siblings to adventure through.
A personal favourite of mine is always the Arabian (Coffee) dance. The striking lines of the dancers’ bodies perched precariously en pointe reflects the fleeting nature of the scent of coffee floating through the air. It isn’t the most famous or virtuosic piece, but it is a fabulous palate cleanser before the beginning of the reverie’s energetic breakdown and the sibling’s return to waking life.
In its three-week, 26-show run, the production brings more than 200 performers to the stage, including nearly 100 students from the National Ballet School of Canada. It is not uncommon to be seated next to a proud parent, cheering for their little one and potential upcoming NBC superstar.
It’s difficult to find fault with this enchanting production; for many it’s as much a part of the holiday season as putting up a Christmas tree, lighting a Hanukkiah or illuminating lanterns for the solstice. This year, however, Ukraine’s Culture Minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, has called on the country’s Western allies to boycott Russian culture until the end of the war; this call includes The Nutcracker.
Though I don’t think boycotting is a reasonable thing to do, Tkachenko’s urging certainly is provocative, and will, I hope, get some companies thinking about the power they hold in producing art.
That being said, there’s a reason that Kudelka’s production of The Nutcracker sold out before it opened its 27th year. It’s timeless – an effervescent take on one of the world’s most cherished ballets.
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect number for the show run. This version has been corrected.