I’d never been to a performance of the Nutcracker before. Actually, I don’t think I’d ever been to a full-length ballet, except once when I took my little sister and her friend to use some free tickets to a performance based on The Emperor’s New Clothes, many years ago, and all I remember about it was getting a parking ticket. I do like modern dance and less traditional ballet and other forms of expressive movement performance. I’ve seen Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, and various student dance performances. But this year I decided to include the Alberta Ballet Nutcracker in my pre-Christmas festivities. My mother always used to play her LP of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite on high rotation in the Christmas season, and I think maybe we once watched part of a performance on television, and our high school band sometimes played an arrangement of the highlights. So I felt like I knew the story.
I went to a matinee. I did not have any children with me and I was not wearing either sparkles or black. So I felt a little bit out of place that way. But the Jubilee Auditorium is a comfortable venue, with coat check (that you have to pay for), London bar service, and ballet-themed souvenirs for sale. And I had a good seat, in the middle of the orchestra, without anyone wiggly sitting in front of me. Before the show started, many of the audience members were peering over the edge of the orchestra pit, some of them making me nervous by sitting on the lip of the barricade. I was also interested to see that many smaller audience members were using the same kind of plastic booster seats available at cinemas nowadays.
Someone from the Alberta Ballet made a speech beforehand, and then introduced a special guest who would be participating in the performance, Mayor Don Iveson. His Worship then marched onto stage rigidly wearing a top hat, tails, and white gloves, to talk briefly about the city’s support of the arts and to promise us that he would not be dancing.
And then the performance started. I found it a little bit harder to follow than I’d expected, because it turned out I didn’t actually remember the story as well as I thought, the plot summary in the program was white printed on uneven-dark and hard to read, and there wasn’t something in the program like a list of scenes or musical movements. The first half of the show was more story-driven, with the big Christmas party, the gift of the Nutcracker, the fight between the Nutcracker and the Rat Tsar, and so on. The second half was mostly just a series of dance pieces with interesting varied costumes and music, put on for the entertainment of Klara and Karl/Nutcracker-boy and Drosselmeier. The first part was a lot more familiar to me, maybe because the story part was more interesting to me as a child and maybe because we listened more to the first side of the record, back when that was a thing. I had completely forgotten that Klara was instrumental in the Rat King/Tsar’s defeat, though. I thought it was interesting that in the program notes and the acting for this production, it was clear that Klara’s brother breaks the nutcracker unintentionally and feels bad about it, whereas the versions that had been stuck in my head since I was a small child with younger brothers had the breakage being at least somewhat intentional. If I had not been paying attention to Mayor Iveson, I don’t think I would have noticed that one of the adult party guests in the background of the party scenes did not actually dance, because he looked completely at home mingling, bowing, and so on. Maybe next year he will get to waltz or something. While I was watching the first scene, set on a city street while the well-dressed guests were arriving for the party, warmly-lit stone houses and gold onion-domes on the backdrop, I suddenly thought, “Oh, this is the Moscow that Chekov’s eponymous three sisters were longing for!” And that is slightly anachronistic, but I still liked the idea of it.
In the performance I saw, Klara was Akiko Ishii, Karl was Yukichi Hattori, the Sugar Plum Fairy was Nicole Caron, and her Cavalier was Kelley McKinlay. From the program, it looks like most of the dancers were taking turns performing different parts in the different performances. I didn’t know they would do that.
And that was my first Nutcracker.