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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
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
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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