Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker looks as pretty as a Christmas card

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      A Royal Winnipeg Ballet production. A Ballet B.C. presentation. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday,  December 13. No remaining performances

      Pretty in pink: those are the best words for the pastel-hued eye candy the Royal Winnipeg Ballet served up in its second-act Land of Sweets and the Waltz of the Flowers.

      The company's rendition of The Nutcracker may not be the most rollicking one out there, but it definitely still ranks among the most beautiful ones. Many of the scenes look as picture-perfect as a vintage, handmade Christmas card. In the second act's magical sugar-plum kingdom, everything is the hue of a pink ballet slipper, from the sunset backdrop to the varying hues of powder-rose on the dancers' floaty tulle skirts and brocade bodices. The swirling, balletic bliss of that scene is almost, but not quite, outdone in the first act's winter wonderland, complete with white pancake tutus, straight lines of ballerinas on tippy toe, softly falling "snow", and—new this year—a herd of impossibly adorable, fluffy-white baby polar bears (courtesy of some local child ballet schools) bounding around.

      The company is one of, if not the, top classical companies in the nation, and it shows its technique in this rendition's crisp yet complex choreography. This year, the corps  was the star, particularly the males with their gravity-defying jetes and scissor jumps. The other constant standout of the RWB production is its elegant sets: with painted fabric, designer Brian Perchaluk is able to create huge depth of field with multiple archways and a dome ceiling in the first act's lush early-20th-century-home scenes. And Paul Daigle's costumes are simply stunning, with their period-pretty layered skirts that blend tulle and sequins.

      The show has serious dance, but maintains a sense of humour: the snaggle-toothed mice with the exaggerated rumps and tails are still a thrill for kids, and there's some silly stage business with the giant, pudding-stealing teddy bear and household servants criss-crossing the back of the stage. The Canadian-ized version offers up some other fun, including an opening round of pond hockey. As for Drosselmeyer, the aging, magical godfather who escorts Clara into the Land of Sweets, it's still a little odd to see him partake incongruously in the Spanish and Chinese dances, but on this evening, Eric Nipp danced impeccably.

      The travelling production does lose something by having an amplified, instead of live, score, but that's made up for in sleighfuls of charm and effortless technique, the kind that comes from an institution with this kind of history and discipline. The Vancouver audience clearly ate up all that dedication and visual elegance: the curtain calls seemed as endless as the purple-glimmering sugar plums that lined the proscenium.

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