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This article was published 21/12/2015 (549 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
More glittery than tinsel on a Christmas tree, Nutcracker, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s eagerly anticipated holiday rite, opened on the weekend, much to the delight of children of all ages.
The ballet, choreographed by Galina Yordanova and Nina Menon, is set in a stately mansion on the brink of the First World War, and tells the tale of young Clara, a 12-year-old innocent who enters a fantastical world in which her carved nutcracker doll transforms into a dashing prince while she becomes the fairy-tale ballerina of her dreams.
The 124-minute production (including intermission) that runs through Monday is also quintessentially Canadian, including such cherished symbols as Royal Canadian Mounted Police, furry Busby hats,Hudson's Bay point blankets and games of street hockey, with costumes created by Paul Daigle.
Tadeusz Biernacki led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Brian Perchaluk’s sumptuous sets included a cotton candy-coloured magical kingdom lit by Michael J. Whitfield.
Nutcracker features a large, multi-generational cast drawn from the company, RWB School and the community at large. This year there are up to five dancers sharing all lead roles, each taking their turn throughout the run.
For Saturday’s opening matinée, principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier performed grown-up Clara with wide-eyed wonder, drawing on her rock-solid technique and expressive acting skills to create a wholly believable heroine. Her poker-straight legs were juxtaposed with melting arms, conveying a grace and natural elegance just right for this dream role.
One of the RWB’s newest members, second soloist Josh Reynolds, played her dashing Nutcracker prince, displaying a suitably aristocratic bearing (and also nerves of steel in filling in for principal dancer Liang Xing with half an hour to showtime).
The couple possesses a palpable chemistry — Reynolds and Sundermeier are partners off the stage — which infused their performance, despite a few wobbles here and there. The grand pas de deux that caps the show enthralled with sky-high lifts; Reynolds’ bounding split leaps and jetés were dazzling.
The role of Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeier, demands a divo and Brazilian-born corps de ballet member Thiago Dos Santos’ keen dramatic sensibility created a swaggering family patriarch worthy of an entire sack of sugarplums.
Every girl should be so lucky to have an aunt like Josephine, portrayed to perfection by second soloist Elizabeth Lamont. The charismatic dancer nearly upstaged even the Christmas party revellers with her not-so-secret tippling, and she shone during her fiery solo, where she coquettishly dons the military cap of her dashing fiancé Edouard (second soloist Tristan Dobrowney).
Principal dancer Sophia Lee created a radiant Sugar Plum Fairy that also underscored her chameleonic versatility, having morphed from her kindly, white-haired Grandmother role in Act I. Her gentle waltz with Drosselmeier as midnight looms, while young Clara (Ana Mekvabishvili) dances with Drosselmeier’s handsome nephew, Julien (Michel Lavoie), brought a lump to the throat.
For the past few years, pudding-loving Filbert the Bear (Katie Bonnell) has elicited the most oohs and ahs from the crowd. He now has stiff competition from 12 adorable polar bear cubs, played by young dancers from the RWB School’s Recreational Division, who were added to the production last year. Last year the cubs appeared stage-struck; this time around, they wriggled and wiggled and gleefully waved their paws to the audience.
Several sections of Act II’s divertissement, in which the ballet’s narrative is virtually stripped as the series of multicultural dances unfold, appeared shop-worn. Fortunately, eight guest dancers from the Verba Ukrainian Dance Company re-energized the show during their high-octane dance, as did a quartet of Stephan Possin, Ryan Vetter, Kostyantyn Keshyshev and Dobrowney.
A highlight has always been Act I’s Snowflakes ensemble. The tightly synchronized corps de ballet members created wintry eye candy under falling flakes of snow, as the sweet voices of the Winnipeg Boys Choir rose from the orchestra pit.
A slow-to-rise standing ovation gradually picked up steam, with the mixed-ages audience finally all on their feet by the end.