The great news is that some Torontonians were able to see a stunning production of The Nutcracker at the Meridian Hall (the O’Keefe Centre for those of a certain age) performed by Ukrainian and local dancers. The bad news is that it was for only a single performance on December 17, 2022.
The production is in part the result of Russia’s barbaric and destructive attack on Ukraine last February. Two superstars of Ukrainian ballet, Vladyslav Romashchenko and Olga Posternak, have left Ukraine not to escape Vladimir Putin’s crimes against humanity but to help their country by raising funds for humanitarian purposes. They have performed across Japan and the United States and have now relocated in Toronto.
The production of The Nutcracker is choreographed by Tatiana Stepanova, who is also the Artistic Director of the Toronto International Ballet Theatre which presented the performance at the Meridian Hall. Stepanova was a prima ballerina with the Odessa State Ballet Company and has choreographed numerous ballets.
The production at the Meridian was a visual and choreographic extravaganza. It opens on a brilliantly lit stage featuring a colourful background with a Christmas tree in the Stahlbaum house. It is Christmas Eve and the guests are arriving in early nineteenth century finery with men in wigs and everyone splendidly attired. By (The?)Costume designer is Shannon Khan.
The production uses some fifty local dancers, mostly children and we are provided with a festive atmosphere. Drosselmeyer (Brennan Clost) brings magical toys. They are a Harlequin (Mayuki Ichikawa), a Columbine (Nubia Gonzalez) and a Jester (Haruka Kyoguchi) which dance for everyone’s entertainment. The young Clara (Madelyn Blois) gets a nutcracker doll (Ksenia Krouzkevitch which eventually will turn into the Nutcracker Prince and the star of the show, danced by Romashchenko. Clara will become a young lady and the other star of the ballet, danced by Posternak.
The highlight of the first act is the Battle Scene between the mice led by their King (Konstiantyn Palienko) and the soldiers led by the Nutcracker (Leonardo Carmona).
This is followed by the gorgeous dance of the grown-up Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in the slow Adagio and the intoxicating Dance of the Snowflakes. Utterly magnificent.
The second half of the ballet is a veritable dancefest. We are treated to half a dozen choreography showpieces and I will give only the titles and the lead dancer but they are marvelous routines. Spanish (Mai Matooka), Arabian (Teagan Hadcoc, who also dances the Snow Queen), Trepak (Kristyn Felushko, Alissa Guissine, Vitalii Luzan) Chinese (Haruka Kyoguchi, Leonardo Carmona), Marzipan (Yeonji Heo) and Candy Canes (Madelyn Blois). Trepak is sometimes described as a Russian dance but in this production the costumes of the dancers were undoubtedly Ukrainian.
The luscious Waltz of the Flowers envelopes us with it magic and familiar melody as we follow the gorgeous dancers on the stage.
The pas de deux by Posternak and Romashchenko was the piece de resistance of the performance and the audience showed no resistance in showing its appreciation and enjoyment of the performance.
Tchaikovsky’s music was prerecorded and reached us through the hall’s loudspeakers. We missed the presence of an orchestra but the sound was more than adequate.
It is uncertain how many of the dancers had ever performed together or how much rehearsal time they had for the single performance. Whatever the real or apparent shortcomings, this was a splendid performance and a beautiful evening at the ballet.
The Nutcracker by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was performed once on December 17, 2022 at the Meridian Hall, 1 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1B2