Every December there is a spattering of productions that inevitably find their way into our lives, and everyone has a handful of favourites they’ll never miss. The Nutcracker Ballet is, of course, among the top few seasonal favourites, and Goh Ballet’s take on the classic is a neatly wrapped package of delight.
[pullquote]Really, this ballet is about the pageantry and the story is just an excuse to get us there, which is just fine, because this pageant is stunning.[/pullquote]The story is of a little girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker toy as a gift at a family party. After the party, she sneaks down to spend the night with her new toy. After some giant rats show up to wreak havoc on Clara’s dreams, the nutcracker turns into a boy-sized soldier, saves the day, and transports Clara to the Land of Sweets where they are treated to performances from a host of residents representing different sweets and nationalities, culminating in the famous Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.
As far as stories go, it is pretty meager. Really, this ballet is about the pageantry and the story is just an excuse to get us there, which is just fine, because this pageant is stunning.
The dancers are uniformly excellent – if there’s one thing you can count on from a Goh Nutcracker, it’s in the precision. From the littlest of soldiers (as young as six years old) to Paloma Herrera, visiting Prima Ballerina from New York City Ballet as the Sugar Plum Fairy, the dancers’ movements are, on the whole, both exacting and sweet.
Young Clara, played by Victoria Wardell was coy and light in her pas de deux with both the Nutcracker Prince (Vlademir Pereira) and Dr. Drosselmeyer (Adonis Daukaev). The Snow Queen and King (Haidong Zhang and Chuanya Yu) gave a perfect introduction to the Land of Sweets. Their dance was captivating and as near to perfect as one could get.
Of course, Herrera as the Sugar Plum Fairy was a treat, demonstrating incredible skill and the most impeccable balance I have ever seen in a dancer.
There is an old adage for actors to never perform with children or animals, as they instantly steal the spotlight. Well, the children in the Nutcracker were as cute and attention-grabbing as ever, especially when they cowered as frightened baby mice or hopped around as lambs. You can’t help but feel sorry for the girls, performing a lovely Merlitons (Marzipan) Dance, as all eyes (and “awwws”) are on the adorable lambs scampering around them.
The sets and costumes, designed by Dingha Zhang and Ming Li are as lavish as one could hope. This production requires hundreds of costumes, and they were all so detailed they suited the scenario perfectly. The sets were majestic, especially the second act’s Land of Sweets set, which was nothing short of stunning as simple changes to lighting transformed it from one dance to another.
Among all this beauty, I couldn’t help but notice, however, just how much the Nutcracker relies on some terribly dated gender and cultural stereotypes. The gender roles are especially atrocious, and to a large degree unnecessary. While all classical ballet will involve men demonstrating strength and the women softness, a lot of gender issues can be smoothed out with the choreography. Instead Anna-Marie Holmes chose to add to it with scenes like the one where Clara’s father attempts to get a kiss from his wife, who rejects him until he offers her jewelry. It was a cheap laugh, and it would be far more interesting to see a take on the Nutcracker that avoided these kinds of tropes instead of feeding into them.
On the whole, however, the choreography was enchanting and the night was a joy. One final shout out to the live orchestra, a rare event in dance performances these days. Maestro Leslie Dala led the musicians in perfect renditions of the well-known music of The Nutcracker.
All in all, this was a complete evening of pre-Christmas magic, and a wonderful treat for kids and adults alike.
Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker continues at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts (777 Homer St) until December 22. Visit http://gohnutcracker.com for tickets and information.