|James Kudelka's The Nutcracker is celebrating its 20th anniversary at the National Ballet of Canada. (Photo: Bruce Zinger)|
The Nutcracker not only lives on, it's gotten better with age. Having just seen the 20th anniversary production of James Kudelka's version of the seasonal ballet classic as performed by the National Ballet of Canada, I can say that the passing years have lent the home-grown production a lovely patina. The choreography, while still devilishly tricky, has softened to the point that interpretative performances trump the pyrotechnics. Individual dancers in command of entertaining acting skills (Harrison James, Dylan Tedladi, Meghan Pugh and Stephanie Hutchison, for instance) better stand out and the story, which previously tended to get lost in the shadows of Santo Loquasto's ravishing sets and costumes, is easier to follow. Not that there is much of a story to tell.
E. T. A. Hoffmann's original 1816 The Nutcracker and the Mouse King book, the inspiration behind Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet, provides the general idea of a broken Nutcracker who comes to life at night to battle with toy soldiers against an army of bayonet-wielding rats. But the real source material appears more to be earlier ballet versions in which tropes like a growing Christmas tree and a tiara-wearing Snow Queen are now deeply embedded components of The Nutcracker narrative. Kudelka knows the formula but still ended up creating a ballet that forges its own path. Instead of a girl's coming-of-age story, as is typically the case with most Nutcracker ballets, Kudelka's version is a portrait of two squabbling siblings, a girl and a boy, Marie and Misha (played, respectively, by Jacqueline Sugianto and Adam Hone), who unite in dream to conjure the fantasy that takes them on a journey of the imagination through a land of ice and snow.