Tag Archives: jubilee

My first Nutcracker!

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.

Two fun shows I forgot to write about, or, a Blind Date with Billy Elliot

In February I went to Rebecca Northan’s show Blind Date at the Club/Rice space at the Citadel Theatre.  I giggled a lot, but I guess I didn’t have anything pressing to say about it and it slipped out of the posting queue of my brain.  Like a real blind date, it was unexpected, occasionally awkward and embarrassing, and kind of sweet.

The show played last year around Valentine’s Day as well.  The concept is that the main character, named Mimi, asks someone from the audience to participate in the play as her date.  In the performance I saw, the participant was a very good sport and amusing fellow named Travis.  There were also several minor characters; I can’t find my program to give proper credits but my notes say they were played by Jamie and Christian.

I think it might be a fun show to see more than once, to see how much it varies with a different participant.  It would also be fun to do gender-flipped or with a same-sex date.

In late March, I saw the Broadway Across Canada production of Billy Elliot at the Jubilee Auditorium.  I was lucky that I hadn’t got an opening-night ticket, as the first night performance got cancelled due to some of the trucks of properties got delayed at the border due to the snowstorm.  The production travels with four actors taking turns as Billy, and two as Michael.  We saw Mitchell Tobin (age 12) as Billy.  The movie Billy Elliot, which came before the musical, overlaps in my memory with The Full Monty, Brassed Off!, and Kinky Boots as a genre of late 1990s-early 2000s comedies about working class people in England coping with hard financial times in creative ways – and the musical is the same story with an Elton John score.  (That reminds me – am I the only person entertained by the bizarrely detailed genre categories that Netflix comes up with as it tries to work out what else I’d like to watch based on what I’ve seen so far?)

The show was polished, fun, and touching.  There was at least as much wooden-chair choreography as in a production of Spring Awakening.  In one particularly surreal dance number, there was a chorus of striking miners and a chorus of police with riot shields, sharing the stage with a crowd of little girl ballet dancers.  The miners’-families Christmas party scene included some puppets like the Spitting Image political-caricatures.

I was disturbed that I had no recollection of the miners’ strike portrayed in the show at the time it was happening, even though background reading for the show illustrated its monstrous import in destroying coal mining in Britain.  And although the show illustrates the excitement and determination of the new strikers, and the persistence and sacrifice as they held out, later history showed their efforts to be as heartbreakingly futile as those of the 1832 Paris Uprising shown in the plot events of Les Misérables.

City and Colour

Last night I went to see City and Colour at the Jubilee Auditorium.

I think it was the first time I’d been in the audience at the Jubilee Aud, although I’ve been seated on the stage for a couple of convocations. I couldn’t think how to work that into conversation, though. The audience included lots of people showing full-sleeve tattoos like Dallas Green the singer, or emulating his style wearing checked shirts or severe black-framed glasses.

The opening act was called Low Anthem. My friend W had been telling me she was more excited about seeing them than seeing City and Colour. Wikipedia calls them folk rock or indie folk, and I could see them fitting in well at Folkfest. They are from Rhode Island. But the cool thing, that I didn’t realise from listening to tracks ahead of time, is that something about their sound and their main singer reminded me a lot of some band we used to listen to in the old days. And I couldn’t think who. Clapton? Tom Petty? I thought of another group but couldn’t remember their name, and it distracted me all through their set, but a quick application to Wikipedia and a quick response to texts from a music fan in my family told me I was thinking of Traveling Wilburys, and so probably Tom Petty’s voice with the more country-like acoustic arrangements. Whew.

Dallas Green and his band were really good. He has good rapport with the audience, responding to shouted comments, asking very politely for one song with no electronic distractions (the one about a funeral) and getting it, with applause, and getting different sections of the audience to sing the backup bits on What Makes a Man, including knowing how to rehearse us (choral conductors do this well, rock musicians generally don’t). He played almost all my favourites from the earlier albums (except for Save your Scissors) and some from the new one I don’t know so well. The encore was Dallas singing alone while playing the piano on, I actually don’t remember which song now, and then with the rest of the band on Coming Home (wild cheers when he mentioned Saskatoon, even more when he mentioned Nova Scotia).

The “Jube” is an attractive comfortable hall seating about 2500 people. I was near the back of the first balcony, so not as engaged as I might have been but I still had good sight lines even with tall people in front of me. I noticed, though, that for both bands it was hard to distinguish lyrics that I wasn’t already familiar with. In comparison, when I saw the band Stars at the Winspear Centre downtown where the symphony plays, the lyrics were very very clear. (This is fortunate, since Stars has better lyrics!) And from what I read this morning, the symphony used to play at the Jubilee Auditorium until audiophiles and philanthropists were able to arrange a hall with better acoustics — so it’s cool that even I could hear that.