Many of us have seen at least one rendition of the magical world of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, a holiday classic. This year, the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers bring to life their enchanted Ukrainian folk ballet, Clara’s Dream, joined by esteemed artists of Edmonton’s Citie Ballet, Ukraine’s Virsky and Kyiv Ballet companies, Shumka alumni and young dancers from the Shumka School of Dance. Artist collaboration between choreographers Viktor Lytvynov (National Artist of Ukraine), John Pichlyk (Canada’s Ukrainian Shumka Dancers), and Jorden Morris (Citie Ballet) unites the dance companies, as they spellbind the audience with their enchanting performance. Notably, Clara (ballerina Tania Lozova from Kyiv Ballet) and the Prince (danseur Yaroslav Tkachuk from Kyiv Ballet) shine in their roles, complementing each other through their captivating movements and duet pieces, particularly in their pas de deux.
The entire audience is enraptured from the beginning of Act I, as the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeier (danseur Vitaliy Netrunenko from Kyiv Ballet) greets Ukrainian carollers (members of the Viter Ukrainian Folk Choir of Edmonton) before arriving at the grand party of the Stahlbaum family. The Ukrainian carollers augment the performance, bringing a sense of authenticity to the Ukrainian rendering of the tale. Set and Costume Designer Maria Levitska’s work is highlighted in this scene by the elaborate and enchanting city streetscape and mystical ballroom set, clearly influenced by her Ukrainian roots. Accompanied by visuals evoking Ukrainian culture and young dancers from the Shumka School of Dance, the ballerinas and danseurs execute elegantly crafted dances, establishing the party atmosphere reminiscent of a family gathering during the holiday season. Shumka alumnus Jeff Mortensen especially shines in his depiction of the mischievous younger brother of Clara, Fritz, with his energetic steps, jumps and kicks.
The famous battle of the Mouse King and the Nutcracker is elaborately depicted in this production. Complete with multiple mouse soldiers wearing headpieces resembling the long snout of a mouse and toy soldiers adorned in their refined uniforms, the scene has complex yet beautifully crafted series of movements resembling true battle. Once Clara’s defeat of the Mouse King breaks the spell and the Nutcracker comes to life, the journey through the pine forest in the moonlit night to his palace is accompanied by enchanting movements of the snowflake dancers.
There are many dances during the production that steal the audience’s attention and keep them entertained during Act II. Among these unforgettable dances are the performances for Clara and the Prince in the palace by delegates from faraway lands, transporting the audience around the world within minutes: exotic Spanish dancers, fluid-like movements from the Arabian dancer, and a merry and jubilant Chinese trio. The true audience favourite is the Ukrainian Hopak presented in an energetic and vigorous fashion, despite a few minor issues with timing. The male dancers, adorned in colorful Ukrainian costumes, showcase their strength, agility and power with their high kicks and jumps, as well as their remarkable hoists and lifts of female counterparts, typical of a true Ukrainian repertoire. The female dancers’ elaborate footwork and delicate movements complement the broader movements of their male counterparts. The high energy of this dance is clearly transferred to the audience, evident in their enthusiastic clapping in rhythm to the score. Finally, a key scene in the classic, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance is elegant and hypnotizing, as Citie Ballet’s Lydia Redpath embodies her role faithfully.
All in all, this artistic collaboration of many star companies is entirely captivating and perfect for families and friends who wish to enjoy an energetic experience during the holiday season, just before ringing in the new year. Clara’s Dream runs for one more performance in Edmonton tonight, December 30th.
Photography courtesy of Canada’s Ukrainian Shumka Dancers.