The Nutcracker

Posted by seanho on Fri 29 December 2006

I've always enjoyed Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker"; I remember listening to it in the car on the way to elementary school. The music is stirring and syncopated; beautiful and so characteristically Russian. Today I attended a matinee showing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, presented by Ballet BC and the Alberta Ballet, together with the VSO. Every time I listen through the entire ballet, I feel like the famous parts are all so short and crowded in the second act. The first act is mostly narrative; it's the ethereal fantasy of the second act that gets the imagination going. But the second act finishes so quickly; I want each segment to be at least twice as long!

It's interesting to compare how different choreographers interpret the classic story. The last time I saw the Pacific NW Ballet perform the Nutcracker was about ten years ago; I'd like to go back again to see Maurice Sendak's fantastical artwork and set design. In North Carolina, the Carolina Ballet production was quite kid-friendly: the dancers did a good job, particularly in the first act, of playfully and whimsically involving the audience.

I liked the production here in Vancouver; I thought the choice of having the entire second act happen in the royal court simplified set design somewhat. I've seen other interpretations where each dance (Spaniards, Arabians, Chinese, etc.) is set in a different location, and the swan boat flies Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to each place. I have to say, though, I really disagree with their interpretation of the Arabian dance: there was just far too much activity and flailing around. The Arabians are supposed to be seductive and enchanting, with slow and deliberate, meaningful movements -- that's what the music is saying!

All in all, it was quite enjoyable, and I would see it again next year. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre is a terrific venue with wonderful sightlines -- I arrived late and was seated in the way back of the mezzanine for the first act, but even back in the "cheap seats" the view was great, and if anything the rustling of seats and papers was a little more muffled in the mezzanine than it was in the balcony. I sat in my original seat for the second act; it was in the "nicer" part of the balcony, and I even saw Canadian actors Michael+Susan Hogan and their kids, seated just in front of me in the dress circle (Mr. Hogan plays Colonel Saul Tigh on the new "Battlestar Galactica", among other roles).

It's rare that I make the trip out to downtown Vancouver, so as I drove home, I was struck again by the sharp contrast between the glossy, expensive high-rise condos and the very destitute people on E. Hastings. At a stop light by a senior's centre on the Upper East Side, I could see despair in the eyes of the people inside, mostly Asians. I wonder if we could bring the church kids there, to bring a little light and song and the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.

(more photos in a separate album)

tags: concert,