the nutcracker choreographed by james kudelka presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Runs to December 30, various evenings 7:30 pm, selected matinees 1 and/or 2:30 and/or 5:30 pm (no performances December 24-25). $21-$81, child $10-$50. 416-345-9595. Rating: NN
i've seen frozen smiles before in beauty pageants, parades and political campaigns, but nothing compares to Rex Harrington's permagrin in the National Ballet's Nutcracker.In Act One, there he is as stable boy Peter, sweeping and smiling furiously amidst the revelling townsfolk. There he is again in Act Two, leaping about and flashing those pearlies as the title character, almost overshadowed by the too-lavish set.
The thing is, he's the only one smiling. The show itself isn't much fun.
James Kudelka's production from 1995 favours style over substance. A Fabergé-style egg, a cute little visual nod to illustrator Maurice Sendak and enough chinoiserie to power a touring production of Turandot are among the treats on display.
If only as much attention had been paid to the choreography. The ensemble sequences are uninspired -- Kudelka can't even effectively stage several crowd scenes -- and the solos and duets are as demanding as warmups.
Worse, the central story -- of two Russian siblings (obviously the boy's been added to the traditional tale of Clara to make it non-gender-biased) who embark on a magic journey after they save the Nutcracker -- isn't clearly told. Kudelka has no sense of drama. Instead, he gives us self-contained scenes -- a pageant.
With the exception of Jeremy Ransom as the eccentric and vaguely sinister Uncle Nikolai, the dancers fail to carve out characters.
Still, Harrington, Martine Lamy (as the Sugar Plum Fairy) and Stacey Shiori Minagawa execute their moves with competence. Piotr Stanczyk, in a small role, shows great promise.
And wouldn't you know it? Even the kids aren't that cute.