Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker is picture perfect

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A Royal Winnipeg Ballet production. Presented by Ballet B.C. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Friday, December 14. No remaining performances

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker may have a Canadian look, but it’s got its pointe shoes firmly planted in the classical Russian.
Aside from the pond hockey, the Hudson’s Bay Company blanket, and the Parliament Hill pop-up backdrop for the battle between mice and soldiers, this is a Nutcracker that’s faithfully traditional and balletic.

Depending on why you’re coming to see the show, this could be a very good thing. The dance of the Snowflakes finds strict lines of frothy-tutu’d dancers tippy-toeing in Swan Lake–like formations under falling snow. The “Waltz of the Flowers”, too, with its masses of pink tulle and men in tights spinning the women like tops, is a vision in Bolshoi-esque beauty.

This is a version that doesn’t make showy attempts to jazz up the nonstop rotation of ethnic dances and ballet sequences in the second act—and that may be a bad thing if you want a lot of fun beyond arabesques and pirouettes.

Not that this Nutcracker is all dry. Children in the audience ate up a scene where a giant, cartoonish bear stumbles into the house and steals the Christmas pudding. And the snaggle-pussed Mouse King is all slapstick hilarity. As for the inexplicable appearance of ominous, black-caped “Flying Creatures” and their “Evil Sorcerer”—well, they look like they’ve been teleported here from another ballet. (Maybe some dark version of Sleeping Beauty?)

As for the decision of the creative team (listed as Galina Rordanova, Nina Menon, and the RWB artistic staff) to give Drosselmeier more prominence in the second act, it gives the ballet a sense of unity. Still, it seems awkward to have him join right in on the Spanish dance. In Alexander Gamayunov’s hands, he’s charismatic and virtuosic, if not as gifted with magical powers as he is in other Nutcrackers.

Other standouts include Sarah Davey as both Clara’s show-offy dancer aunt and a supple Arabian dancer in what is a gorgeously sculptural rendition of the famous pas de deux. (A bare-chested Eric Nipp was her sensual partner on opening night.)

As for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince (Serena Sandford and Dmitri Dovgoselets on opening night), watch her twirl in his arms like a perfect music-box ballerina. His jetés are incredibly graceful yet powerful, but there’s no grandstanding or sense of one-upmanship in this rendition.

Like the rest of the production, the pair’s sequences could use a little extra energy or joy—and you can’t write it all off to the use of a recorded soundtrack instead of a live orchestra. In many ways this is a picture-perfect Nutcracker, with pretty ballerinas, beautiful costumes by Paul Daigle, and lush traditional sets—shimmery purple sugarplums ring the proscenium and the family mansion glows against a wintry landscape. For the budding ballerinas in their best dresses at the opening, that was enough. But there’s a scene where the Sugar Plum Fairy puts a tiny bit of golden dust into a cake mix to give it that extra, indescribable magic—and one wonders if this production could benefit from a little sprinkling of it too.

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