Alberta Ballet's Nutcracker sparkles with Sugar Plum-flavoured eye candy

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      An Alberta Ballet production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until December 31.

      Back in town after two years, Alberta Ballet's The Nutcracker hasn't lost any of its glittering sheen.

      This rendition of the Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky classic continues to hold its place as one of the most visually seductive versions to hit this town. The second act's delicate vision of soft pinks and golds, on a stage gilded like a Fabergé egg, is so beautiful it almost hurts your eyes. As the Flowers tippytoe in gorgeous lines, exquisite bleeding hearts and lily of the valley sprout up magically behind them. And just watch the Snowflakes at the end of the first act, a vision of perfection in their long, sparkling tutus, twirling onto the stage, one by one, like feathery crystals caught in the wind, under gently falling snow.

      Yes, the $1.5 million production, designed by Zack Brown, shows every cent of its investment in a Russian-styled interpretation that features Snow Tsarinas, Cossack-hatted rats, Arctic wolves, and ever-present onion domes on the fairy-tale buildings off in the distance. It's romantic in the best Dr. Zhivago kind of way, opening on a snowy, lamplit streetscape that immediately whisks you off to a magical world—one far away from the mall madness you've endured for weeks.

      As for the dance itself, choreographed by Edmund Stripe, it is fairly traditional, but exquisitely executed by the company—and by countless local children as partygoers. It's fascinating to watch many of the same Alberta Ballet dancers who twisted and cavorted in works like the Elton John-set Love Lies Bleeding and Sarah McLachlan-inspired Fumbling Towards Ecstasy showing their considerable classical chops here. Highlights include the Sugar Plum Fairy (at this matinee danced by charismatic, Vancouver-raised Nicole Caron), pulling off an effortless barrage of fouettes and turning like a music-box ballerina, and her prince Kelley McKinlay, nailing his scissor jumps and leggy leaps in the air. Stripe's Arabian dance always pays off with sensuality, danced this time by the lithe Mariko Kondo with her two hunks Garret Groat and Christopher Kaiser. And Nutcracker-come-to-life Yukichi Hattori springs to new heights in some truly showstopping combination turns.

      There is some fun, with incredibly lifelike mice skittering around Klara at midnight, and her family's living room magically transforming so she's shrunken beneath Christmas tree boughs and a giant fireplace. The battle scene between the rodents entering from the fireplace and toy soldiers marching from a domed play-castle is also spectacular. For the sake of the little ones in the audience, the extended opening party scene, rife with social dances and stage business, could use some trimming, however.

      Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find another Nutcracker with this much Sugar Plum-flavoured eye candy, set off by sparkling ear candy from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.