Friday, December 11, 2009


Underwhelmaing ‘NUTCRACKER’ by Winnipeg Ballet at Allen

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘NUTCRACKER’ is a musical score that lends itself to a dynamic ballet. It is musically filled with passion and lyrical texturing. In the hands of a creative choreographer and the proper lead dancers, the stage explodes with excitement and delight.

Unfortunately, though they presented a ballet that was proficiently danced, the overall effect of the Winnipeg Ballet’s presentation of the Christmas time classic was a lack of passion. It was bland. Maybe those north of the border would say, “Canadian sensibility” prevailed.

Traditionally, ‘NUTCRACKER’ is set at Christmas time in Tchaikovsky’s Russia in the late 1800s or a British Victorian home. This version is set in Canada in 1913. The plot revolves around 12-year old Clara, whose family is hosting a large holiday party. Clara receives nutcracker from Drosselmeier, her Godfather. She takes the doll to bed with her and spends the night dreaming of various adventures including a fight with mice and a magical swan sleigh ride.

On the positive side, the usual excessive amount of walking often found in ‘NUTCRACKER’ stagings is eliminated, the sets are gorgeous, the costumes era correct, the orchestrations work well. A cute bit with a Canadian bear, the delightful young corps of local children, and a charming snow ballet complete with falling snow, add to the positives. A clever device of having hockey players cavort during the overture, which shows guests arriving for the party, is definitely a Canadian addition.

Anyone who saw Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, of the late Cleveland Ballet, dance Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, know how enthralling the performance of those roles can be. On Thursday night, Vanessa Lawson danced the role of Clara. Lawson is a fine dancer, but lacked the necessary enchanting presence. Gael Lambiotte, who performed as the Nutcracker Prince opposite Lawson, was also competent, but lacked the needed prince charming charm. Alexander Gamayunov didn’t radiate the dynamism usually inhabited by Drosselmeier. The battle between The Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince lacked excitement.

Positive performances were mounted by Maureya Lebowitz, who was delightful in the Chinese segment of the Kingdom sequence, as were Jo-Ann Sundermeier, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Robert Pleschke and Liam Caines in the Arabian segment.

Not once during the presentation were the cries of “bravo,” so common at well-performed ballets, heard. There was no traditional Cleveland standing ovation during the curtain call. The children sitting around me were not entranced. Not an “ooh” or “wow” came from their lips. Their eyes were not twinkling with wonder.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: At the conclusion of the performance of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s ‘NUTCRACKER,’ the adorable nine-year old girl sitting behind me was asked by her mother, “Did you like it?” Her response was a perfect review of the evening. She sighed and said, “It was okay.”