Queen Elizabeth Theater, Vancouver – December 29, 2015.
Stripe’s story takes place in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, evoking imperial grandeur, drama and beauty – qualities captured well by classical ballet. That the dancers held the classical aesthetic so well, in light of the diverse styles of neoclassical ballet and contemporary choreographers in this company’s repertoire, shows they know the foundation of their craft.
The choreography holds no surprises and probably doesn’t test the dancers’ full physical capacity. In turn, the execution was clean and looked well-rehearsed, save for a few minor glitches that were masked by their lovely smiles and characterization.
The title role of Klara, performed by Alex Gibson, was expressive and clear, and her mime and characterization carried the narrative. In the second act, she reveals her expressiveness in dance too, and overall, a full, heartwarming performance.
The beautiful dance of the twelve Snowflakes is a highlight, and the first real dancing number that comes only at the end of the first act. Their footwork was clean and upper bodies carried nobly, without exaggeration, and made even more lovely by their romantic-styled tutus and subtly sparkling bodices. They seemed to be the same dancers in the eight Flowers of the second act, accompanied by four male Flower Cavaliers. Each of their numbers was delightful, dancing for us as if we were an audience in their imperial court. Adding to the effect was their uniformity that made for a clear presentation.
The segments which did require distinction, however, were lacking. The choreography of the Spanish Dance, performed by Heather Thomas and Jose Losada, suggested Spanish flair with rounded arms held behind, but the upper body mainly stayed upright in balletic style. Jennifer Gibson and Yukichi Hattori twirled ribbons in the Chinese Dance, and though they were light and energetic, the choreography’s footwork missed the opportunity to emphasize the piccolo’s lively whistle. Another point where the footwork didn’t quite work was in the Ballerina Doll of the first act, also portrayed by Jennifer Gibson, who rocked her upper body convincingly each time her arms locked into its positions, but the smooth and upright chaîné turns proved an uneven transition for the doll’s suggested mechanical construction. An exception was the moving Arabian Dance, performed by an enigmatic Reilley McKinlay, and her two male consorts Chris Kaiser and Gustavo Ribeiro. Her movements, smooth and articulate, seemed inseparable with the mysterious, low hum of the wind instruments.
The Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Luna Sasaki, brought grandeur to the show. Her feet moved briskly while letting her arms float to the softer notes of the music. She was spot-on with the music, yet never rushed, even finding moments to prolong the extension of her legs or the arch her upper body. Her expressive, clean performance is also a compliment to Her Cavalier, Garrett Groat, who supported her well in the pas de deuxs.
Not only dance, but The Nutcracker needs an amount of theatricality to carry the narrative. Here, the company shows its talent for mime and caricature. The party scene was particularly animated by the characters depicted by all the performers, including the children, and especially Eli Barnes as the Grandfather and Natalie Chiu as his Babushka. Along with the fanciful and well-appointed costumes, the stage was never short of visual delights (costume and set design by Zack Brown). However, the set panels that framed the stage left little room for a growing Christmas tree, and throughout, the feeling that the performers would welcome a larger stage.
The performance was accompanied well by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.