The Gift of the Nutcracker
Paul Destrooper story and choreography
Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, Duncan
December 12, 2015
Royal Theatre, Victoria
With the Victoria Symphony
December 27 to 29
Imaginative, funny, well performed, unexpected – The Gift of the Nutcracker, Ballet Victoria’s twist on the Christmas classic, is everything a parent and her dance-mad children could wish for. Without a multi-million-dollar budget to provide all the bells and whistles of, say, the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker, artistic director Paul Destrooper engages audiences with a Pandora tale of a gift box that should not be opened, but when it is, lets loose chaos in the family home.
Destrooper himself anchors the production as Uncle, the traditional Drosselmeyer, who is a magician who can’t ̶̶ to much laughter – seem to get his act together. His magic handkerchief gets stuck up his sleeve and then he blows his nose on it; his efforts at orchestrating the Christmas tree decoration are less than adequate. Anna Hulbert in the role of Pandora – Clara in the original Nutcracker – is a lithe and lively dancer whose performance provides the thread through the story. When she opens the red box, out come the creatures that upset the Christmas festivities: navy blue and yellow-clad Minions, a long line of pot-bellied mice and a snaky Chinese dragon. Uncle summons Princess Elsa (Snow queen) to put a freeze on the situation. Eventually, the creatures are induced to return to the box (a bookcase is transformed into a human-sized gateway).
Surely no other Nutcracker on earth features a musical interlude of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” in the Christmas Eve dances. Bruce Monk choreographed the unusual 5/4 score such that the viewer hardly notices the steps deviating from the 4/4 dance signature. In Victoria, conductor Guiseppe Pietraroia will drop his baton and take up a saxophone to play the Brubeck jazz classic.
Destrooper’s versatility as choreographer ensures that the familiar classical ballet steps are well integrated with more contemporary forms. Victoria Ballet’s Andrea Bayne leads a cast of accomplished dancers. She is an elegant, long-armed Princess Elsa/Sugar Plum Fairy. Guest artist Yui Watanabe from Japan makes a snappy Nutcracker Princess in full uniform/tutu. BC native Jessie Gervais is a well rounded performer who does double duty as Pandora’s father and Jack Frost. Matthew Cluff, also BC-born, partners Andrea Bayne with aplomb. Japanese guest artist Risa Kobayashi shows clean lines in several roles, including Pandora’s mother. Ottawan Luke Thomson does a lovely turn with Risa Kobayashi in a closing pas de deux.
Lighting, projection and costume designers Roger Traviss, Jason King and Jane Wood earn full marks for this production, in which ingenious lighting and projections make for very effective backdrops and magical transformations and detailed costumes show off the dancers’ prowess.
BC dance fans must be grateful for this pocket ballet company that outpaces many small companies. Ballet Victoria is one of only five professional companies in Canada that offers five programs a year, Destrooper’s Gift among them. The show has all the makings of a Christmas tradition.
Above: Scenes from A Gift of the Nutcracker. Photos by Gail Takahashi