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The holiday splendour of Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker

By Ansharah Shakil, December 20 2023—

The Nutcracker is something that automatically springs to mind whenever the holiday season is brought up, for many a celebratory holiday tradition. Alberta Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker made a return this year, taking place from Dec. 15–24. 

The ballet production is based on E.T.A Hoffman’s 1816 short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, in which a young girl is gifted a Christmas toy, a nutcracker, who comes to life, defeats the villainous Mouse King and takes her to a magical kingdom of dolls. Alberta Ballet’s take on the story is fresh and fairly faithful, though has, since last year, removed some of the more problematic aspects of the ballet by replacing the international dances with the Marzipan, Caramel, Peppermint and Popcorn dances. 

Act One introduces us to Klara Vishinsky, whose family is welcoming guests for a Christmas Eve party. Klara’s godfather Drosselmeyer arrives and presents a play about a man who angers the Rat Tsar by building a mousetrap. In revenge, the Rat Tsar turns the man’s nephew into a nutcracker. A ballerina who falls in love with the nutcracker saves him and defeats the Rat Tsar. The story of the play turns out to be the story of Drosselmeyer and his nephew. Drosselmeyer gifts Klara with her own nutcracker, and in the night, he and Klara engage in battle against the Rat Tsar with the nutcracker. The Snow Tsarina transforms the nutcracker back to Karl. In Act Two and leads them to the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy. In the Epilogue, Klara wakes up thinking the night was all a dream, until she sees Karl with Drosselmeyer. 

It’s a familiar story, with enough twists and turns to keep anyone entertained, and with plenty of humour. Plot-wise, an adaptation like Barbie and the Nutcracker might be a bit better — the ballet is light on action after Act One — but the ballet’s artistry is gorgeous. The sets were as picturesque and charming as miniature snow globes. Act One stood out for its warm intimacy, the setting of the Vishinsky’s home lit golden amidst their happy guests. The world of the Snow Tsarina in Act Two contained truly breathtaking set design, with a glittering, dark-blue net of stars studded with glitter. It was magical enough on its own, but the sparkles that fell down the stage to imitate snow elevated the set even further. 

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra performed a stunning rendition of Tchaikovsky’s iconic, timeless score to enhance the performances of all the dancers. Saturday’s evening performance included Mya Kresnyak as Klara, Scotto Hamed-Ramos as the Nutcracker, Eli Barnes as Drosselmeyer, Jennifer Gibson as the Snow Tsarina, Mariko Kondo as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Caleb Durbin as the Sugar Plum Cavalier.

While all of these dancers, and the rest of the supporting cast, were excellent, one of the most heartwarming things about The Nutcracker is that alongside the professional dancers are a large children’s cast of students from Alberta Ballet School and Classes. The lively, animated and talented movements of the students were a joy to watch. In one particularly enjoyable scene, they were dressed as mice to frighten Klara and crawl all across the stage. The audience was completely delighted by their passionate take on their roles. 

Kresnyak, with her joyful, youthful ebullience, was a lovely Klara. She and Hamed-Ramos practically flew across the stage, light on their feet and radiant as Klara and Karl. Separately, each of them move gracefully; but when the time comes for them to dance together, they easily provide some of the best performances of the production.

Kondo, however, was the star of the show. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s every dance received thunderous applause, and for good reason. She turned without pause, without hesitation, with clear, ethereal and elegant expertise. The moment the notes of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” began, the audience was full of excitement and anticipation that Kondo immediately satisfied. Kondo and Durbin’s final Grand Pas de Deux was a dazzling feat of dance filled with enchanting, transportive emotion. It’s no wonder Klara thinks at first that the night was all a dream because The Nutcracker is a production filled with magic, a moving celebration filled with warmth and wonder this holiday season.

To buy tickets and learn more about Alberta Ballet, visit their website here.

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