Nutcrackers and cossack rats

Ballet BC has brought seasonal favourite, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, to town for a handful of performances at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Together with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Toronto-born Music Director Peter Dala), The Nutcracker opened once again with a set evoking turn-of-the-20th-century Russia.

The Alberta Ballet performing Nutcracker

This timeless tale centers around a Christmas Eve party at the Vishinsky home. Colourfully-clad children dance around the room, excited by the magic of the season. Klara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (David Neal), arrives on the scene with a toy nutcracker, recounting the tale of how a young boy is turned into a nutcracker by the Rat Tsar, a spell that can only be broken by finding someone to love the boy as such.

Palace of Sugar Plum Fairy

The party guests depart for the night, and later we find Klara alone in the room searching for the nutcracker (lost during the party), given to her by Drosselmeyer. As the town hall clock strikes twelve, both she and the audience are treated to a world of make-believe, complete with larger-than-life mice, rats, wolves, and a Snow Tsarina, all magically transformed on stage through elaborate costumes, lighting, and sets.

Arabian dancers

As with the 2011 Alberta Ballet production, one of our favourite moments during the evening came when three Arabian dancers (the trio of Reilley Bell, Kelley Mckinlay, and Colby Parsons performed the night we attended) provided a seductive feel towards the start of the second act.

Akiko Ishii performed as Klara, and as in 2011’s show, her dancing remains top-notch and her facial expressions youthful and joyous. Together with Alberta Ballet eight-year veteran Yukichi Hattori (who I had the pleasure of watching dance in previous Alberta Ballet productions Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Love Lies Bleeding), they have fantastic chemistry on stage.

Yukichi Hattori
[Yukichi Hattori]

Watching the wolves carefully maneuver the Snow Tsarina out of her chariot was another beautiful moment. The dancers make it look effortless, but my oh my is this company well-trained! Little girls dressed in the audience were likely awed by the white ballerinas on stage, full of sparkle and light.

From one beautiful scene to the next, the story finally winds down, back in the old street at the doorstep of the house where the story began. Again, the Alberta Ballet surprised us with their sensual take on a classic ballet. The Nutcracker children are all very talented and create an atmosphere of merriment throughout the evening.

Kudos to Emmy Award-winning Set and Costume Designer Zack Brown and to Choreographer Edmund Stripe for again bringing such a marvelous, elaborately-detailed enjoyable ballet to Vancouver this season.

Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker continues through December 31, with a 2 pm New Year’s Eve matinee. Photos by Darren Makowichuki and Drew Meyers.

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