When you go to The Nutcracker, what you notice first are the girls. The little ones. You see the first little girl, squirming while her harried mother untucks taffeta skirt from tights, and then you see them everywhere. Little girls in festive plaid or their first favourite colour, pink. Little girls in ringlets and lip gloss, in patent mary janes, or still in snowboots, refusing to change into their fancy shoes.
This may be why, even before the first note chimes, or the first dazzling set piece is spotlit, or the first slippered toe twinkles on stage, you feel nostalgic. Because, of course, you have seen The Nutcracker. Even if you haven’t seen it, or it was so long ago that you can’t remember, you have seen it. The Nutcracker is a real (meaning, old) holiday tradition (not like, say, Starbucks Christmas Blend, or Chevy Chase) and as such is part of the collective imagination: you’re in the gift shop, Tchaikovsky plays, and instantly, visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy dance in your head.
The National Ballet‘s spin on the Nutcracker is set in Imperial Russia, 1892, and glories in the rich pageantry of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved tale. It’s spectacular, as you expect. But it doesn’t stop make-believing: there are dancing bears and a parade of sheep (including, adorably, a little black one), and there is a cannon that shoots confetti into the audience, and there’s an imaginary feast-turned-food fight. Amid the elaborate choreography (by James Kudelka) and the rigorous, spirit-and-polish performances (the one we saw was led by Piotr Stancyzk and Sonia Rodriguez) beats an extraordinarily light heart. This is a Nutcracker for the little ones, no matter how old they are on the outside.
The Nutcracker runs through December 28, with shows nearly every evening, plus weekend matinees. For tickets, priced between $20 and $200, visit the box office in the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen Street West, or call 416-345-9595. Or, if you’re between 16 and 29, register at DanceBreak.ca to get access to $20 tickets, best available on the day of performances. (This goes for all ballets at the National, FYI.)
Photo by Bruce Zinger courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada.