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Flash Review 3, 12-11: A Real Sugar Plum
Sweets from Kudelka and NBC

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2000 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- James Kudelka's "Nutcracker," seen Saturday at the Hummingbird Theater, is beautifully performed by the National Ballet of Canada. It was the delight of the smaller people in the audience, who emitted many giggles and whispers of "Oh look!" These utterances are the best affirmation of the success of the production. Kudelka's "Nutcracker" is about children, for children and it is a magical adventure that offers something for everyone. Not a hodgepodge of silly and serious plunked in one ballet, it is coherent and engaging. From the five-year-old gentleman who loves the crazy chefs, to the older types like myself who are deeply moved and awed by the divine magic of Martine Lamy and Rex Harrington dancing the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince, we were all quite satisfied with our evening.

In the past, I have suspected that some versions of this story for children were actually written by the spirits of Sigmund Freud, Lewis Carroll and the bitter and unemployed forest witch who used to do Hansel and Gretel. Consider just for a moment the traditional gist: the young lady is having a crummy time at the Christmas party, when her weird uncle appears and tempts her with magic and things. She is enthralled. But she cannot participate in this, other than being overtaken by awe and gratitude towards this rather sinister control-freak of a guy who looms around a lot. This little fragile being is attacked by rats and saved by her nutcracker prince. And of course he teases her out of childhood with some kind of romantic seduction and promise of happy security and true love. He loves her instantly, has his own sleigh and a magic kingdom with great market value. This is of course what all girls dream of: a perfect life with a handsome prince. We all know this is a load.

In Kudelka's scheme, we are in Tsarist Russia, indicated by fabulous Santo Loquasto sets and costumes. We begin in a stable of cinnabar colored wood. Through the open stable doors a navy night sky frames a grand house in the distance. Harrington's Peter sweeps the stable and is joined by young Marie, Tabitha Perry and her brother Misha, Ilia Massalkine, who made his debut in this role Saturday. The young Marie and Misha are danced by children. When Mr. Harrington dances with the children he is the cohesive confidence of them and brings them 'up' to a level where they enjoy their dances. We could call what he offers 'experience,' but it's more effective and marvelous than that. Marie and Misha danced and acted their roles with clarity and skill. Marie and Misha's nurse, Baba, Victoria Bertram, was warm and lovely, and William Mariee's Uncle Nikolai was zany and magical and full of funny quirky things. He is a sort of beloved genius-kook. Marie made all of the demanding allegro and character work look entirely easy and light. I had heard about the dancing bears, one with roller skates and the other en pointe and I thought, Oh please no. But it is quite cute and fun, as is the dance with Uncle Nicolai's Clydesdale horse. Everyone has a gift but Marie, so Nikolai gives her the Nutcracker, intended for her parents. Misha is jealous and they quarrel until their father takes it away.

The children fall asleep, they both dream that Nikolai returns the Nutcracker doll to them and scary mice crawl out of their beds, frighten them and then disappear. The Nutcracker suddenly grows under an enormous Christmas tree. And, lo, the beautiful Nutcracker life-size is just like their friend Peter, the stable boy. Some of the characters who are dreamed are magically 'bumped up' from their lot in life. These people exist in the real world of Marie and Misha, i.e. Baba and Uncle Nikolai become grand people in the dream. There's a wholesome message here about real people being part of magic too.

Toys come to life and dogs and cats wearing suits of armor gallop in on horses and fight. The cats win, but big evil mice appear! A rooster and a goat pop out of the top of towers, (Chagall's masterpiece 'The Village' comes to mind) things are galloping and a cannon shoots out 'boom' colorful streamers. The Nutcracker is in danger and Misha and Marie have to help. They decide to cooperate and do a gallant job together, scaring off the baddies using a feather pillow.

The trio of friends rests until they leave to seek the Snow Queen, Rebekah Rimsay and her Icicles, Piotr Stanczyk and Richard Landry. Ms. Rimsay does icy elegance in a warm and engaging manner; technically she is spot-on. Her attendants are more icy in demeaner yet still very impressive.

Throughout the ballet, the corps was impressive. Precise and harmonious. The Snow Maidens were gorgeous and exacting. Demanding choreography was executed with flow and ease. Every wrist and every eyeline matched the next.

Act Two is in the magical golden kingdom where the Sugar Plum fairy lives in a huge Faberge egg. Rows of red-coated attendants protect her. She descends from the egg, dances beautifully for her guests and goes back to the egg. The syrupy adage looks deceptively simple. It showcases Ms. Lamy's extraordinary ease of control and strength. This is our first glimpse of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It is the aperitif of the Sugar Plum's role in this ballet; she will offer a veritable performance feast.

Speaking of food, Marie and Misha are offered a feast that begins with Spanish Chocolate, a hair-raisingly speedy Spanish-flavored dance by a half dozen dancers dressed in browns and greens. Then comes my favorite short passage, Arabian Coffee, in which, accompanied by two men, Julie Hay and Xiao Nan Yu were lithe, poised and exotic. Several beautiful 'portraits' in this choreography. A youngster close by asked about the red and gold courtesans during this dance: "Why they are sleeping?" Exactly. I don't know why the little attendants slumbered during this coffee portion. It wasn't decaf at all.

Next, a flock of lambs are performed adorably by the 'Junior Associates of the National Ballet School,' all about four years old and precious in their little BoPeep sheep's dresses, all pinks with one black sheep. A sheep, Andreea Olteanu, and her flock are tormented by a Fox, Philip Lau, who suddenly appears. The lead sheep, with terrific extensions and grace especially for her species, charms the fox as Baba keeps the little sheep rounded up and safe. One young audience member was unclear as to what animal the fox was. "What's that guy?"

The crazy waiters and the rolly-jolly chefs are quite a hit and whimsical fun as they prepare and present the meal for Marie and Misha. A bee (Brenda Little) and flowers and branches were delightful, although from time to time our bee looked rushed through the steps, perhaps a sixteenth of a note 'off' in this gruelingly buzzy passage.

And now for desert. Get out your favorite brandy, find your leather chair, ring for someone to stoke the fire and prepare to be serenely and deeply moved by the duo of Martine Lamy and Rex Harrington.

Marie and Misha had noticed that their friend the prince fancies the Sugar Plum and encourage him to ask her to dance. He does so, and during the dance their love grows and they are betrothed.

It amuses me to consider that before this passage I knew more or less what was going to be presented: a love story, a classical pas de deux performed here by two great artists. Sure, I expected to marvel, only I received infinitely more.

The choreography is sumptuous and complements this particularly famous passage of the score quite beautifully. It transcends this couple's technique. My cohort and I were entirely moved, to a trickle of misty tear. For this was for us one of those extremely rare and memorable artistic delicacies. A moment. A privilege. There was a palpable energy that flowed between them, emanating from both. Ms. Lamy, elegant and beautiful, captured stillness in motion. The source of this energy with which they glowed felt quite limitless. It was replete with generosity and, well yes, with love. It felt full of promise, trust, honor, friendship and respect -- I could go on. I do not know how they accomplished this, but they did. It spiraled on and on and was divine.

I've seen a few and even danced in a Nutcracker many years ago. ( I was a little soldier, a ballet school 'recruit' for the tour of the Alberta Ballet - my starring moment during the battle was to break rank, where I helped wheel out the cannon and jump 'boom' as the king rat met his demise. Ah the glory!) On this Saturday, just before the performance, a couple of rows away from us, a dad asked his little boy what he thought of this show last year. "Awesome." The dad continued: "Better than the (X sport team) game?" The boy paused, completely perplexed. The dad suggested, "Not the same?" "Well...no. No, it's not the same." "You're glad to see this again?" "Oh yeah!" A classic's a classic. Especially this one.

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