The Nutcracker promotional poster
The ballet company first performed in Ottawa in 1945, over twenty years before the NAC was opened in 1969. Image: National Ballet of Canada/Provided
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The prairie ballet company turned the Russian classic into a Canadian Easter egg hunt, with skating scenery and Hudson’s Bay blankets

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s (RWB) performance of The Nutcracker earned a standing ovation at the National Arts Centre (NAC) on Saturday, Dec. 4. The ballet company first performed in Ottawa in 1945, over twenty years before the NAC was opened in 1969. On Dec. 4, they were accompanied by the NAC orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s famous score, conducted by Bernard Labadie. The RWB has brought their talents to Ottawa 89 times since their opening in 1939. This season, they sold out all five Ottawa shows of the ballet.

The show began with a speech from none other than the RWB’s artistic director himself, André Lewis. He began by acknowledging the land of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation. Lewis delivered a warm message welcoming the community back to live performances after 19 months of pandemic performance conditions. The audience was at full capacity with no social distancing between seats, as the Ontario health measures had recently allowed. All attendees were required to provide proof of vaccination and remain masked for the entirety of their evening. Finally, while acknowledging the reduced number of local child dancers in the show, Lewis took the opportunity to inspire the young dancers in the audience to seek a dance education at RWB as they are opening a new residence to continue offering youth ballet training programs. 

Now, on with the show!

The prairie ballet company turned the Russian classic into a Canadian Easter egg hunt, with skating scenery and Hudson’s Bay blankets. In this adaptation, the soldiers in the fight scene with the mice were RCMP officers and they were defending a prop parliament building. Though this felt like a perplexing juxtaposition considering the land acknowledgement Lewis made, I could recognize the endearing ‘Canadian’ references being made.

Galina Yordanova and Nina Menon choreographed the movements of the sword and hockey stick props cohesively with the music, which truly allowed the Canadian image to come to life.

The audience giggled away at the classic Nutcracker bear who tiptoed around the scene, playing with the toys and stealing the cake while no one was watching.

As someone who danced competitively in high school, I couldn’t help but hear all the little critiques that lived in my head from my past instructors. However, pushing away my silly instinctive inner dialogue, the dancing was phenomenal.

The sets were beautiful, and the props were captivating. The little Christmas tree decorated by the family got lifted upwards by set coordination when Clara began dreaming. It was as though the Christmas tree was never-ending as they revealed the body of this larger-than-life Christmas tree.

The other thing that felt never-ending was the snowflakes. During the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the scene began with four dancers. And then four more arrived on stage, and then four more and so on. Due to the beautifully seamless transitions of dancers going off stage and on stage, it felt like a never-ending group of snowflake dancers blessing the stage. Finally, the 16 dancers and the falling snow created the most majestic, wintery pine forest scene before the intermission.

Despite the borderline cultural appropriation that is always written into the plot of the divertissement section (where Clara watches and dances about the Land of the Sweets), the pieces were well choreographed. And the prima ballerina, Alanna McAdie, who took on the role of Clara (in the dream), displayed incredible strength and grace in her partner’s work and solos. Coffee (The Arabian Nights Pas de Deux) was very impressive due to the almost inconceivable flexibility of the woman and the male dancer’s ability to control the partner’s work. Tea (The Chinese Dance) was performed by the female dancer, and instead of another dancer in the same themed costume, the King stepped in for a playful duet.

Throughout the whole ballet, the male dancers never failed to impress me. The tours (where they spin in the air with one movement off the ground) were incredible, and their impeccable timing and coordination with the women really demonstrated the imagery I believe the choreographers had in mind.

All in all, it was a holiday miracle to be able to abide by COVID-19 restrictions and enjoy a Canadian take on a classic ballet performance, something that was clearly truly missed by all those in attendance — and one omicron has now taken away.