- The Nutcracker
- National Ballet of Canada
- Four Seasons Centre
- Runs Until
- Saturday, January 03, 2015
The National Ballet of Canada's The Nutcracker is almost 20 years old, and it remains as fresh as the day it premiered in 1995. The combination of James Kudelka's brilliant choreography, his interesting scenario, and Santo Loquasto's opulent design have made this production irresistible.
In recent years, The Globe has focused on reviewing new casts. After all, what more can be said about the production itself except that it is among the best on the planet.
This season, Emma Hawes is making her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Artistic director Karen Kain is clearly enamoured of this young dancer, choosing Hawes to represent the National at the 2012 Erik Bruhn Prize where she won the People's Choice Award.
I first reviewed Ohio-born Hawes when she was a student at the National Ballet School. In 2008 I noted that she had "personality and lovely lines." In 2009, when she was only in Grade 10, Hawes was the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. I called her performance "remarkable for her presence and carriage."
Fast forward to 2011 when Hawes joins the corps de ballet. Just three years later, she is the Sugar Plum Fairy. For a National Ballet corps member to be given this showcase is a sure sign of future greatness. Of the five other Sugar Plums, four are principal dancers and one is a first soloist. In short, Hawes is in exalted company.
The ballerina was under additional pressure for this career-defining debut. She was supposed to be partnered by Guillaume Côté, the National's premier danseur noble. Côté, unfortunately, injured himself during a performance on the weekend, and it was McGee Maddox who stepped into the breach.
Kudelka has given the Sugar Plum a variation of intricate footwork when she first emerges from a Fabergé egg. From the onset, Hawes showed off the classicist that she is, displaying a delicate filigree of movement, perfect placement and a lovely legato flow. Hawes' performance was as smooth as silk.
She and Maddox pulled off Kudelka's fiendishly difficult partnering with aplomb. Hawes never lost her poise during the lifts, and Maddox rewarded her by sending the ballerina to take a solo bow. Their fellow company members gave the couple a round of applause, which was echoed by the cheers of the audience.
As for Maddox, he was promoted to principal dancer this season after just five years in the company, just as I had predicted he would be. Maddox has always had star quality. He is tall and well-muscled, and so he has a large presence on stage. Nonetheless, he has an astonishingly light ballon for his size, but he can also hurl his body through all the showy flash and dash of the male variations.
The South Carolina-born Maddox gave Peter the stable boy a new quality, clothing the role in American swagger. He was cheeky and confident, which was completely refreshing. Peter may be a servant, but he did not bow down to his masters.
Every ballet company needs a short, fast guy because there are a plethora of roles for this niche of dancer. First soloist Robert Stephen has been a stand-out as this ballet archetype since joining the company in 2004. His Uncle Nikolai was a whirling tornado of amazing turns and jumps.
Second soloist Chelsy Meiss as a Sheep, and first soloist Naoya Ebe as a Fox also deserve mention. They brought real oomph to this usually cute duet with their crisp, sharp attack; they really commanded attention. First soloist Tanya Howard showed herself to be a perpetual motion machine in the flat-out dancing of the Bee.
First soloist Elena Lobsanova is another great National Ballet classicist and her Snow Queen glittered with beautifully rendered footwork and port de bras. Her Icicles were corps members Jack Bertinshaw and Harrison James, who both displayed musicality and technique. They are part of an influx of talented young men who Kain has recently brought into the company.
As the battling siblings Marie and Misha, National Ballet School students Mathilde Roberge and Cole Sweet brought a real commitment and enthusiasm to their roles. Guest conductor Earl Stafford led the orchestra at a lively gallop.