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National Ballet of Canada


by Kate Snedeker

December 1 , 2010 7pm -- Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, Ontario

It’s that time of year again! On Saturday, dancing mice, snowflakes, cute sheep and even a sugar plum fairy invaded the Four Seasons Centre to welcome the holiday season with James Kudelka’s “The Nutcracker”. The lush sets enveloped the stage in a warm Russian glow, providing a perfect backdrop for the lovely dancing.

The story begins on Christmas Eve in cozy stable somewhere in snow-covered 19th century Russia. Marie and Misha, and Peter the stable boy are preparing for the holiday party, which becomes a rollicking event led by crazy Uncle Nikolai. Marie receives a special Nutcracker from Uncle Nikolai, but Misha tries to steal it. After the party, the two siblings are tucked safely into bed, where they enter a dreamland full of dancing snowflakes, giant rats, and a real-life Nutcracker Prince who looks very much like Peter (!).

Loquasto’s Russian influenced set and costume designs are the stars of this production, creating a perfect fantasy world for the Christmas Eve adventures. On the choreographic side, we are treated to the best of Kudelka’s inventions, as he twirls snowflakes, flowers, unicorns and even dancing cooks across the stage. The marzipan shepherdess is re-imagined as a sheep-shepherdess with a flock of adorable little National Ballet School lambs, and the flowers are led in their dance by flitting bumblebee, brought to buzzing life by a wonderful Tina Pereira. When it comes to filling the stage with colorful choreographic tableaus, Kudelka is without peer. His Snow Queen-Icicle pas de trois is also a wonder of intricate, weaving steps. Yet, at other times he seems oblivious to Tchaikovsky’s score. This is most obvious in the un-inspired pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and The Nutcracker Prince/Peter where the choreography fails to make any use of the glorious musical crescendos.

Anastasia Komienkova and Joel Exposito were delightful as Marie and Misha, but the two male leads really stole the show. There are few early Christmas present better than a full evening of Zdenek Konvalina, and no better ballet to show off his many talents than “The Nutcracker”. He brought a perfect kindly, good-looking youthfulness to the role of Peter, and just the right white-tights elegance to the Nutcracker Prince. Impressive in the frequent turning steps, Konvalina also was a supportive partner for his Sugar Plum Fairy, Bridgett Zehr. Looking beautiful in her glittering tutu, Zehr seemed brittle in her first solo. While the steps were technically spot-on, the performance lacked warmth or lushness. Zehr did, however, warm up in the pas de deux, the chance to share the stage with Konvalina - her on and off stage partner -bringing added depth to her dancing.

The other standout of the evening was Piotr Stanczyk, who came alive as the slightly crazy Uncle Nikolai. He created a lively, colorful character, matching acting finesse with technical brilliance. Kudelka’s Uncle Nikolai dances far more than most equivalent Nutcracker characters, and Stancyzk turned like a top, out-spinning even Konvalina. His turns in second were perfectly centered, made all the more dramatic by his swirling red coat. Here’s to hoping he gets a chance to show off his stunning technical feats in Don Quixote, and/or in the longer-term future, the turning solo in Etudes.

Xiao Nan Yu was appropriately icy as the Snow Queen, though her two cavaliers seemed to stretched to their limits by the complicated partnering. The corps sparkled in the snowflake section, but at other times looked to be in need of more rehearsal (or tired from the recent Triple Bill/Cinderella performances). The Spanish Chocolate divertissement, in particular, was sloppy, and the Arabian Coffee divertissement lacked any real sensuality or spark. However, one had to feel for the two male dancers. Arabian-themed divertissements seem to bring out the worst in male costumes, but Loquasto’s striped codpiece – chest baring - rear-end clinging creations are particularly cringe inducing.

David Briskin conducted the NBoC Orchestra.

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