Friday, December 09, 2011



It might come as a shock to some to know that NUTCRACKER, whose performances have become a world wide Christmas tradition, was dismissed as “completely insipid,” “corpulent,” and “pudgy” when the ballet was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. Obviously, views have changed!

There was never any question of the quality of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music, but the story was deemed to be incoherent and hard to follow.

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet is back in Cleveland to present its version of the fantasy story of Clara, a young Canadian girl in this version, and her love affair with a nutcracker prince.

As the fine orchestra played the overture, which highlights the themes of the great score, an outdoor hockey game, snowball fight and the arrival of guests, is portrayed.

Yes, it’s the night before Christmas and everything and everyone is stirring, including guests, mice, a giant stuffed bear, a dream of a sugar plum fairy, dancing snowflakes, angels, waltzing flowers, and a nutcracker prince.

The Canadian company puts out full effort, but they fall short on fantasy. All the elements are there, just the dance quality and creative choreography are missing. The usual squeals of delight of the children in the audience, especially, the young girls, were not present. The usual Cleveland standing ovation was not garnered. No “bravos” were shouted after the showcase Grand Pas de Deux. This was a rather slow moving, unspectacular, if adequately danced program.

The first act was especially slow moving. There was a lot of walking around and posing. Drosselmeier lost his magic touch and was nothing more than a master of ceremonies. The much anticipated Christmas tree was there, but it was not eye popping and its usually visually entrancing growth was rather unspectacular. The battle between the Nutcracker prince and his soldiers, and the Mouse King and his henchmen, was boring. Even the cannons didn’t create much of a boom. The highlight was the Dance of the Snowflakes, which was nicely performed and the presence of 50 child locals portraying various parts.

The second act picked up a little with some fine performances by the Pas deQuatre and the Arabian duo. The Sugar Plum Fairy danced adequately well, but did not mesmerize and many of the other specialty dances did not compel attention.

As I sat watching this performance, my mind scrolled back to the days of the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet and Dennis Nahat’s glorious version of the NUTCRACKER which was often performed on the same State Theatre stage. It often starred the luminous Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriquez, her real life prince. Those were the presentations which elicited the “ohs,” “ahs,” and “bravos.”

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet is an adequate company, but did not display the quality of dancing and creative choreography to make it a world class troupe. The women dancers often didn’t stick point, and sometimes stood at odd angles as they attempted to hold poses. The lead dancers were adequate, but not of the quality that should be expected.

Capsule judgement: Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet lacked the necessary excitement, fantasy and fine dancing to make its’ NUTCRACKER a compelling evening of dance.