Review: The Nutcracker (Toronto International Ballet Theatre)

Christmas classic arrives on the Toronto stage this holiday season!

The magic of the Tchaikovsky score paired with gorgeous ballet dancers never fails to spark the Christmas spirit inside of me. Toronto International Ballet Theatre performs the classic story of The Nutcracker with its typical grandiosity, bringing smiles to mine and many faces of all ages in the audience. The performance retains many Nutcracker traditions, however features a few unique artistic touches.

The performance begins with a sad sigh from the audience as an announcement is made that the highly anticipated Bolshoi principal dancer Anastasia Stashkevich, would not be performing. However, this reaction turns into applause for her replacement of former Principal Dancer of the Bolshoi and current Principal Dancer of The National Ballet of Canada, Svetlana Lunkina.

Toronto International Ballet Theatre brings together young talented Toronto dancers with international stars from one of the top ballet companies in the world, the Bolshoi Ballet. Based in Moscow, the Bolshoi Ballet was founded in 1776, making it one of the world’s oldest ballet companies. However, with the change in cast, the only large star from the Bolshoi is Vyacheslav Lopatin. Although his partner Svetlana Lunkina was at once a part of the Bolshoi, and the choreographer, Tatiana Stepanova, was also a former dancer for the company, they both now reside in Toronto. Although slightly disappointed at this change, the music began, and I quickly settled in.

As the curtains open, you see all the familiar bright colours and a large cast that come with the classic story. The large ensemble of young dancers quickly steal your heart, especially the young mice as they cutely claw at the soldiers in a battle of toys coming to life. Noy Vanir, who plays a harlequin doll and a Nutcracker in the first act was an incredible young performer with extraordinary jumps and lines, hittings astonishing speeds and heights. Jaws dropped in the audience with every step he would take.

One artistic choice by choreographer Stepanova was the growth of the Nutcracker through the first act. First Clara hugs and dances with a doll, which quickly turns a very young and adorable dancer, Ava Stewart. In the next scene, the Nutcracker grows to a slightly larger performer, Noy Vanir. In the second act, the character transitions to the Nutcracker Prince, danced by principal dancer Vyacheslav Loptain. Stepanova also changes the role of Clara from act to act from a young girl to principal Svetlana Lunkina.

The most significant diversion of the story is the lack of a Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara dances to the famous score and another soloist is later treated with a solo resembling the prestige of the part, yet it is called Waltz of the Flowers. This is a little disappointing as the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy is always one of the highlights of the performance which was taken away.

Principal dancers, Loptain and Lunkina, were both beautiful dancers with clean and flawless lines, light as a feather jumps, and beautiful extensions. I heard many remarks from audience members during intermission about their admiration for the pair concerning the quietness of the jump landings and overall body control.

As common as it is to find performances of The Nutcracker by various ballet company at Christmas time, it is hard to performances as professional as this, other than the National Ballet of Canada’s yearly Kudelka version. I don’t particularly care for Kudelka’s choreography, so I jumped at a chance to see finally see a different take. However, being a larger production, I find the missing element of the orchestra slightly disappointing. This was highlighted as a technical glitch silenced the music for a couple seconds during the performance. However, dancers continued seamlessly as if nothing had even happened.

I loved seeing so many young audience members and families attending the performance. All dressed up for a Christmas-y night out in the city; with a palpable excitement in the air that I don’t see at many performances. My highlight of the night was hearing a little girl excitedly express to her parents her wish of being Clara one day. I would love to see this version of The Nutcracker back next year, but hopefully with more international guests.

Details:

  • The Nutcracker played at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
    (1 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1B2).
  • The show ran only one day, Saturday, December 22nd, with performances at 2:00pm and 7:00pm.Photo provided by the company.

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