Monday, December 17, 2012

An Evening At the Theater - The Nutcracker in Vancouver

Friday night, as an early Christmas present, David took me to see The Nutcracker at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. I luuuuuurve The Nutcracker (it's one of my all-time favs to see) and have seen it probably half a dozen times in my life (at different theaters/in a few different cities), so I was STOKED to dress up fancy with Dave and go downtown for a theater date night to see the show, which was put on by Ballet BC and the Canadian Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Eesh...... where do I start? How about I begin with, "Yikes."

I've sufficiently prefaced this review by just stating that a) I've seen this show put on many times and b) it's one of my favorite things to see at a theater. A.K.A. "I know this shit pretty well, I know how it's 'supposed' to look.... and I know when someone is making a joke of it."

First things first - they made it a Canadian version of The Nutcracker. {pregnant pause} I'm not telling a joke when I say that in Vancouver, The Nutcracker opens on a scene of kids playing hockey. Let that sink in. It's also set in WWI Canada. There were also Mounties in several scenes. I was expecting a traditional Nutcracker performance... Nowhere that I've seen the show performed prior to this had created a bizarre local adaptation. Sitting in our seats as we waited for the lights to go down, I literally had a dropped jaw while reading the performance program as it became clear that this was not going to be a traditional Nutcracker - it was going to be Nutcrack-eh?

Aside from the Canadian spin on the story line, there were some other disappointments, based on my own expectations going into the theater...

There were many times when either:
- the huge, sprawling stage was completely empty aside from 3 or 4 dancers doing tiny, uninspiring movements in the center, or
- there were a TON of people on stage, but 90% of them were standing completely still - either standing along a wall or just holding a static pose. The "ballet" part seemed to contain huge holes of inactivity by a large number of the cast! The lack of movement was slightly comical at some points, slightly frustrating at others.

The infamous main character of the mysterious caped uncle/godfather/counselor (depending on which version you're watching), Herr/Uncle Drosselmeyer, was portrayed in the Canadian show as more of a goofy uncle in a polyester suit with a silly wig. He put on a cape once, but it came off again within about 5 seconds. His air of mystery and magic was just absent!

The bear character. At one point in Act I (in every other version of The Nutcracker I've seen) during the big Christmas party, a life-size toy bear that Herr Drosselmeyer has brought to the party for the children dances and entertains the party-goers. In the Canadian version, there is no toy bear at the party, but rather a cartoonish, silly bear lurking in the windows outside, peering in on the party and then later coming inside the home to create some mischief. I believe this was an attempt at physical humor or comic relief... something which, in my opinion, The Nutcracker really doesn't require. What really drove me nuts about this goofy bear thing was that the bear didn't dance. For those of you who haven't seen it.... the bear character in the Boston Ballet's Nutcracker is an actual ballet dancer in a full-on bear suit, who does shit like this:
.  photo from  .
The bear character in the Canadian Nutcracker was, more or less, in a clumsy mascot costume, and couldn't have danced in it even if he/she had wanted to. The character did manage to eek out a "cabbage patch" move or two, I believe.

The Russian dancers vignette from the "Around the World" section of Act II didn't include the most notorious and expected dance moves... You know the ones! Now, I know that every choreographer designs these parts slightly differently, but they ALL include some of the same famous moves. This is a great example of the energy and dance moves I'm talking about:
(Turn down your volume before you play this - it's a little loud!)

Notice how people in the audience are cheering mid-dance routine? It's because not only is what those dancers are doing awesomely impressive, it's also probably something those audience members were looking forward to seeing in the show. I'm telling you, it's a staple. And the Canadian Nutcracker, for the most part, avoided any of those moves! There were only like 2 of those "leaping legs split" moves from the video above. Choreographer's fault or dancers' fault? I couldn't tell you. I just know it LEFT A VOID IN MY HEART. The audience's, too, I think. The Russian dancers usually receive an extra loud round of applause at the end of the show during the curtain call, but not on Friday night.

It didn't seem that they were making great use of the stage space. Most of the seemingly pretty large stage was left empty most of the time, which might not have been as big of a deal if the choreography had been spectacular... But I am so sad to say it was not! Dave even leaned over to me at one point and asked, "So is the dancing going to get any better than this, orrrrr..... is this it?" Have we been spoiled by the Boston Ballet??

They were using the pre-recorded version of the orchestra music. This just in itself actually isn't a deal-breaker for me - I've seen other Nutcrackers that have used the recorded music, too. But like I said at the beginning of this post, no other Nutcracker I've seen has strayed so far from the original storyline, so in this case the pre-recorded music seemed awkward and out-of-place with the new storyline. There were times when the tone of the classic Nutcracker music was clearly calling for one thing to be happening, but the choreographer/new Canadian Nutcracker was calling for another. The result was incongruity, to put it nicely. To put it not nicely, I laughed out loud a couple of times at how silly it seemed at points.

**On the BRIGHT side!!**

Yes, of course there were several scenes I did enjoy in the production, despite some of my expectations not being met in other areas.

I loved almost any time that there were LOTS of people on stage who were all moving! These moments breathed life into an otherwise bashful overall performance, dance-wise. One of my favorite parts in particular came at the end of Act I, when all of the snowflake dancers were dancing through the falling snow. Beautiful!

The sets were pretty :)  Kudos to the set designer(s).

The Queen Elizabeth Theatre has cool light fixtures hanging from the ceiling in its lobby...

.  dave tells me this is "art deco"  .

The theater also overlooked the Christmas Market that has been going on in downtown Vancouver for a couple weeks now:

Overall, I think "underwhelmed" was the word of the night for me. This adaptation of the play was just not what I expected and at times came off as a mockery of the amazing original. Why they felt that such a classic needed this facelift, I am just not sure. Perhaps if I'd never seen The Nutcracker before, or held no expectations whatsoever before I sat down in my seat, this would have been a top-rated performance.

To end on a positive note, I'm quite happy that Dave and I got to dress up in nice clothes, go on a dinner-and-theater date, and walk around downtown Vancouver on a pleasant night with no rain. And yes, we both looked damn good.

Disclaimer:  Dave gave me full permission to write this, as he agreed with me for as much of the show as he was awake to see ;)

1 comment:

  1. Oh no!! I'm sorry it was so lame - I can't believe Canada ruined the Nutcracker.


Leave me some love!