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This article was published 22/12/2014 (2468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Great lords a-leaping! You know the festive season is in full swing when the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's sparkling Nutcracker lights up the stage each year.
The eight-show production that opened this weekend and runs until Dec. 28 has become an annual holiday rite as much beloved as yuletide carols and eggnog. Set in 1913, the full-length story ballet tells the tale of 12-year-old Clara, a wide-eyed innocent who enters a fantastical world in which her carved nutcracker doll transforms into a dashing prince while she becomes the fairytale ballerina of her dreams.
Performed en pointe, the classical ballet choreographed by Galina Yordanova and Nina Menon is also quintessentially Canadian, infused with games of street hockey, snow angels, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and furry busby hats with all costumes designed by Paul Daigle. Every so often, the 124-minute (including intermission) work that premièred in 1999 is spruced up with winsome new characters, such as rosy-cheeked cherubs added a few years ago. This time around, 12 adorable (albeit somewhat stage-struck) polar bear cubs culled from the RWB School Recreational Division elicited audible oohs and ahs as they waved their paws to the delighted audience.
RWB music director Tadeusz Biernacki ably led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky's iconic score with special guests, the Winnipeg Children's Choir's (alternating with the Winnipeg Boys' Choir and Winnipeg Girls' Choir) sweet voices wafting from the orchestra pit during Act I's Magical Forest scene.
It's always a pleasure to see Brian Perchaluk's glorious sets, including a grand old mansion and pastel-infused kingdom lit in rosy hues by Michael J. Whitfield.
Every year, this ballet appears ever more youthful as up-and-coming dancers join the now-75-year-old company's ranks. A full cast of 35 students selected from the RWB School's Recreational Division portraying baby mice, party children, Mounties, angels, and of course, those impossibly cute polar bear cubs also help ensure its multi-generational appeal.
Charismatic soloist Sophia Lee (all leads with alternating casts) as grown-up Clara radiated pure joy during Act II's Grand Pas de Deux performed with second soloist Tristan Dobrowney's Nutcracker Prince despite one close call during her otherwise sparkling fouettés. Dobrowney, who has morphed over the years into a regal danseur noble, partnered his princess effortlessly, including soaring lifts before enthralling the crowd with his own expansive leaps during his variation.
In her first lead role, Emilie Lewis's confident portrayal of young Clara showed poise and a natural elegance beyond her tender years. The RWB School Professional Division student proved particularly charming during her gentle waltz with fellow classmate Michel Lavoie's Julien during the Christmas party scene.
Two of this ballet's juiciest roles have always been Clara's Godfather, Drosselmeier (Thiago Dos Santos) and Aunt Josephine (Elizabeth Lamont) -- a singer from Montreal -- who flounces in with her fiancé Euouard (Egor Zdor). Both artists stamped these roles as their own, matching each other one wildly flamboyant step for step.
Career bear-ist Katie Bonnell reprised her role as the lovable Filbert (now joined this year by mama polar bear Hazel) who lurches after figgy pudding and scooters around the parlour on one hind leg to squeals from Saturday's opening matinee audience's kids.
Now a remarkable 15 years old, Nutcracker has evolved both into an epic extravaganza as well as a well-oiled technical/touring machine that's been seen by thousands of balletomanes across the country. Most dance companies today still rely on their own various incarnations to fuel the rest of their season -- and this one is no different. However, this is all pedantic fact. Ultimately, the RWB's Nutcracker is still the stuff of wonder and dreams, with the venerable troupe's uniquely "Prairie-fresh" version capturing the magic of the season for children of all ages.
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Updated on Monday, December 22, 2014 at 8:53 AM CST: Replaces photo
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