Review: The Nutcracker (Toronto International Ballet Theatre)

Nutcracker (International ballet theatre)The Nutcracker arrives in Toronto for the Holiday Season!

It’s Nutcracker time! Performed every holiday season without fail it is the world’s most popular ballet, with many different adaptations (or lack thereof) about the magical toy.

Toronto International Ballet Theatre was back with stars of the Bolshoi Ballet, Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin, at Meridian Hall.  Presenting a traditional take on the ballet, this performance features over fifty dancers of all ages, dazzling costuming, delectable set design and, of course, delightful dancing. The company has been performing The Nutcracker each year since 2008 and is the only one to show the original Russian story in Toronto.

This traditional presentation means that choreography aims to stay true to the original, as does the general feel of the piece. This means that there are a few outdated uncomfortable racial stereotypes to deal with when watching the piece.

This is certainly not the only production that faces this. A lot has been written this year about these outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed within the second act of the ballet. National dances within the piece — such as the Chinese and Arabian variations — stem from visual stereotypes rather than traditional steps. Many companies are coming forward with new ways of representing these dances and other issues of representation within the ballet.

Recently in the headlines is the first black ‘Marie‘ character (known as Clara within the Russian version) in The School of American Ballet’s Nutcracker adaptation. This major ballet company is one of many to join Yellowface.org and its pledge to give a final bow to the racist characters represented. They also provide consultation services to ballet companies in helping to navigate these tricky topics. 

Although the stereotypes can be jarring to watch, the quality of dancing presented here is undeniable. While this performance chooses not to change any of these controversial topics, the show itself is otherwise a great production. At this point, perhaps it serves as a jumping-off point for discussion with its younger viewers. I am interested in seeing how the performance will change in the coming years, as companies address ballet’s representation issues. It’s time.

The best part of any Nutcracker performance seeing dancers of all ages and levels dancing together on the same stage. This mix shows the dedication and hard work of ballet dancers, in order to be able to grow and climb the ladder of Nutcracker roles and hopefully to the coveted position presented by the gorgeous guest stars from the Bolshoi Ballet.

Overall the performance is beautiful— a magical experience for many children on stage and in the audience. No ballet matches the grandiosity of The Nutcracker; the stage is always bright, colourful and full to the brim with so much to see. This company does a magnificent job. A stand out of the performance was Riho Ogata, who danced the leading role within ‘Waltz of the Flowers.’ Perfection. She never misses a step, always perfectly on balance through incredible feats.

Although many companies around the world are adapting the ballet for modern times, I have yet to see a company within Toronto take on the task. I’ve always considered it a great ballet for first time experience for a new theatre-goer, but it’s important to keep the issues of the racial misrepresentation in mind while viewing – and be aware you will face them before attending. Even though those sections were difficult, ultimately I came away from the ballet with a smile on my face and a festive spirit.

Details:

  • Toronto International Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker had a one-day engagement in Toronto and played on December 14, 2019, at Meridian Hall at 2pm and 7pm.
  • Keep updated on their website for more information and future performances from Toronto International Ballet Theatre.

Photo provided by the company.

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