It’s not truly Christmas season until the Sugar Plum Fairy’s graceful twirls, or a re-telling of Scrooge’s mistakes, arrest an audience’s attention somewhere.
This year’s production of The Nutcracker by the Alberta Ballet, as choreographed by Edmund Stripe, successfully captured the magical highs and lows of the popular holiday adventure. On opening night (December 10th) the audience was drawn into a telling of Klara and Karl’s (The Nutcracker’s) journey, which went from the living room of the Vishinsky’s house, to a war between the rat army and toy soldiers, through the snow forests, and into the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This charming tale – where Klara (played by ballerina Alexandra Gibson) was tested to love The Nutcracker (danseur Nicolas Pelletier) in his non-human state – was delivered in time to the famous Tchaikovsky score.
The endearing spirit of family is captured right from the beginning of the first act as the Babushka (ballerina Natalie Chui) comically welcomes guests into the Vishinsky’s party, before going on to prove that old age never ruined a good party. Artists from the Alberta Ballet and Alberta Ballet II established the party’s atmosphere through various waltzes, and albeit a few minor synchronicity issues, the scene put all the dimensions of a family gathering on display for the audience.
Despite a seamless marriage between costume design and the dancers’ narrative, the battle between the Nutcracker’s army of toy soldiers and the Rat Tsar was nuanced with visuals resembling more orientalist historical symbolism through the costume design. In this adaptation, the rat army (clothed in harem pants and turbans) faces the gun toting, top-coated and hatted toy soldier army. Regardless, Costume & Scenery Designer Zack Brown succeeded in creating sets and costumes that complemented both the dancers’ characters, the narrative and the score.
It is at the moments where the ballerinas and danseurs deliver complex technical movements in precise synchronicity that the magic behind this ballet reveals itself. The first of three such moments takes place in the snow forests where the Snow Tsarina (ballerina Heather Thomas) and her corps de ballet of Snowflakes execute harmonized movements, which accurately mirror Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Snowflakes. The second is the Arabian dance, which takes place at the Sugar Plum Fairy’s palace, where complex shoulder hoists and support from danseurs Christopher Kaiser and Gustavo Ribeiro complement ballerina Reilley McKinlay’s entrancing liquid-like movement.
Ballerina Luna Sasaki’s portrayal of the Sugar Plum Fairy captured the spectacle of this ballet. From the captivating pas de deux with danseur Garret Groat (The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavelier) to her performance of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy to the popular Tchaikovsky composition of the same name, the Sugar Plum Fairy was definitely a sight to see. Least to say, her en pointe was on point.
Overall, the production provides a great experience for families and friends, ballet enthusiasts, or ‘newbies’ to the scene, as we lead up to the holiday season festivities.
The Alberta Ballet will be running the performance in Edmonton up until the night of December 13th at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, before setting up stage in Calgary from the 17th to the 24th of December.
Photography courtesy of Yin Yi (feature photo) and Paul McGrath (photo above).