The Nutcracker is Oh So Suite

photo by cathy mcKelvey

There is a famous line from the musical A Chorus Line that goes: “everything was beautiful at the ballet;” and I found this thought creeping to the forefront of my mind as I sat transfixed watching The Nutcracker this evening. Indeed, here is a magical world woven of graceful dancing, glorious music and delightful puppets. It is little wonder this gem of a show has become a Haligonian holiday tradition for over twenty years.

This collaboration between Halifax Dance, Symphony Nova Scotia and Mermaid Theatre of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (Opus 71a; 1892) choreographed and adapted by Leica Hardy with Graham Whitehead is quite a marvel. There are very few productions in Canada that can boast of returning to the stage every year for over two decades and even fewer that can do so without feeling a little more dated or deflated each time. All the magic, the wonder and the joy inherent in this classic tale and this gorgeous music is firmly intact in the production onstage now at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax.

The story centers on a young girl named Clara, the only girl from her dormitory who is not going home for the holidays. She is given a special gift of a Nutcracker soldier and that night dreams an adventure in which the ordinary happenings of the waking world become fantastical. The story is told entirely through the collusion of Symphony Nova Scotia’s spirited playing of Tchaikovsky’s score and the lovely company of dancers who bring it so vividly to life. Despite the relatively simple plot and conventional character types (a sweet young protagonist, her dashing Prince, the school bully etc.) the dancers manage to walk a fine line between wordlessly conveying their characters’ motivations and emotions clearly without losing the sense of elegance and refinement inherent in the ballet. Vivika Ballard is a delight as Clara, filled with warmth and empathy for all the others while still remaining rooted in the vulnerability of a young girl feeling abandoned at Christmas. Rebecca Wolfe counters her nicely as Frieda, the insolent troublemaker brimming with jealousy of Clara’s new nutcracker and the special attention she receives from the others in the dormitory. Henry Jackson is distinguished as the Nutcracker Prince and when he and Ballard dance together, it is truly a scene from a fairytale come to life. Gay Hauser as Fraulein Sofia Drosselmeyer, Alexis Milligan, as her sister Lotte and Christopher Wolfe, as the janitor, provide great comic interludes that mix dance with clown and harken back to silly Vaudevillian shtick. Also noteworthy was Hayley Bone as Emily, the Rag Doll and her great physicality that really captures the sense of Raggedy Anne come to life.

One thing that I love about the ballet is that it engages the imagination in a different way than plays or musicals, since it is left up to the audience to fill in their own dialogue as they piece together the story. This not only makes the audience complicit in the creation of the piece, but it also allows for this story, from 1816, to be timeless as its characters are not bound in words by early 19th Century societal conventions.

This production of The Nutcracker is a gloriously multidisciplinary collaboration between the artists from Halifax’s dance, music and theatre communities, communities that I think should cross-pollinate their talents and their audiences much more frequently. One of the most magical elements of this show is Jim Morrow’s beautiful puppets from Mermaid Theatre. From the mammoth Spirit of Winter to the snake with the wiggly tail and the scene-stealing charming Russian dancing boy, the puppets give Clara’s dream world a sense of child’s wonder and enchantment. What is even lovelier is that the dancers also act as puppeteers which further melds these sometimes disparate artistic worlds together in teaching these young performers new skills and allowing them to explore different ways of creating characters and storytelling with their bodies and through movement.

Leica Hardy’s choreography is strongly rooted in Clara’s world and perfectly tailored to Tchaikovsky’s dazzling score. Not only can Hardy fill the wide Rebecca Cohn stage with interesting movement, amid puppets and large moving set pieces, but not a moment ever feels too cramped or too sparse. The dancers make every moment look seamlessly simple, as though we humans are always so delicate and graceful in our movement and our deportment. Hardy makes beautiful use of the tableau and really captures the spirit of the emotions of each scene from the boisterous pillow fight to the rollicking lambs.

Of course Tchaikovsky’s grand, sweeping and imaginative score, one that evokes images of sugar plum fairies and dancing flowers, has become ingrained in our popular culture and synonymous with Christmas. Symphony Nova Scotia, under the conduction of Bernhard Gueller, expertly swathe the audience in the lush blend of intricately woven music. They give world-class performances that elicit Goosebumps reminding their audience that there is nothing more riveting than hearing music live.

The Nutcracker is a beautiful production sure to fill ballet and music lovers with warmth and delight this holiday season. Its bold theatricality makes it a great introduction to live performance for children and a wonderful intersection for members of multidisciplinary Arts communities in Halifax to check out the work of other incredible artists in Halifax.

The Nutcracker plays at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium (6101 University Avenue) at the following times: 

December 13, 2012 at 4:00pm

December 14th, 2012 at 7:30pm

December 15th, 2012 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. 

Tickets are $39.00 (adults), $19.00 (Students/Children) and are available at the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office (6101 University Avenue), by calling 902.494.3820 or visiting this website

Get crackin’. 

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