Toronto International Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” makes spirits bright

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

A scene from The Nutcracker, Toronto International Ballet Theatre, 2017

Toronto International Ballet Theatre’s annual The Nutcracker, choreographed by Artistic Director Tatiana Stepanova and featuring Bolshoi Ballet principal dancers Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin, is about to usher in Christmas with two shows at the Sony Centre!

And nothing heralds Christmas quite like The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s glorious Nutcracker Suite is the aural equivalent of Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or Santa Claus himself. And The Nutcracker ballet remains a staple Christmas tradition that evokes the wonder and whimsy of a young girl’s Christmas-Eve journey to a fantastical land. The ballet is based on an 1816 German story entitled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E. T. A. Hoffmann. In it, a Nutcracker made by Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum’s clockmaker uncle Drosselmeyer (and which happens to be Marie’s favourite toy) comes to life. He fights and defeats the evil Mouse King, before taking Marie to an enchanted  kingdom of dolls. Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of this story into The Nutcracker ballet that premiered on December 18, 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. George Balanchine’s landmark 1955 New York production transformed the ballet into a North American tradition with a mythic legacy as one of the most beloved ballets of all time. And the tale continues to be reinvented and reinterpreted on stage and screen – most recently by Disney as The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

A graduate of the renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy and former prima ballerina of Ukraine’s Odessa State Ballet Company, Mme Stepanova has choreographed the TIBT’s version of this beloved Christmas-time ballet with an innovative choreographic vision that retains its classical purity. SesayArts Magazine spoke with Mme Stepanova about her creative vision, her guest dancers, and why this Nutcracker is a not-to-be missed production of the festive  season.

  1. The Nutcracker is a widely-performed Christmas ballet. What makes The Nutcracker so timeless and appealing? And what will make your interpretation and choreography unique and also relatable to Toronto’s diverse audiences?

The Nutcracker is a special ballet. It’s a  story full of miracles, magic and young love that is told through the brilliant music of Tchaikovsky. You leave the theatre feeling happy and believing that miracles will happen in your life. You can see this ballet year after year and be moved by it every time.

Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin in The Nutcracker, Toronto International Ballet Theatre, 2017

My interpretation and choreography is based on the traditional Russian version of The Nutcracker, one that I have seen and danced many times. Russian ballet is known across the world in the dance community as the place of true classical ballet. In this version, I try to preserve the classical ballet elements that make this story so special. Also, in this version there is a bigger focus on Clara and her journey with her first true love, The Nutcracker Prince.

Toronto is a place where we encourage people to experience other cultures and by bringing some of the worlds biggest stars from the renowned Bolshoi Ballet to dance on one of Canada’s biggest stages, The Sony Centre, we give our audience a peek into the magic of true classical ballet danced by the world’s best.

  1. Please tell us about the staging…. What should we pay particular attention to, and what do you hope we notice?

We have put a lot of effort into the design of our costumes and sets. It is all part of the experience, and I would encourage our audience to let the experience of the ballet take them away. This ballet has a lot of emotions, and if you immerse yourself in the story and the music, you will be taken away to a magical place. Allow yourself to be moved by the music, the sets and the dancers.

  1. The production features Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin of the Bolshoi Ballet. How did this collaboration come about? What would you like audiences to know about these famed dancers and their participation in your Nutcracker?

I graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and went on to dance all over the world. The ballet world is very small, and I connected with the current Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet through a mutual contact. After we spoke, he recommended Anastasia and Vyacheslav to perform.

This is very rare for dancers of this quality to be featured in such a production as they have a very busy schedule; however, we are lucky that The Nutcracker in Russia begins much later then it does here. Christmas in Russia is on January 7th, so this allows for the dancers to make the trip.

These are Principal Dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet. They are among the best classical ballet dancers in the world. This title is only given to 8 female and 8 male dancers, and this is the best of the best. I’ve often used a sports analogy for people who are not to familiar with the ballet world: The Bolshoi Ballet are the New York Yankees of the ballet world. It is a real treat to watch these dancers perform on stage. They make everything look so graceful, and I guarantee you will leave the performance appreciating this level of talent.

  1. The final word is yours. What would you like to add that I haven’t asked?

The Nutcracker was an inspiration for me when I was a child, and I want to pass that childhood experience to the next generation. I want to kids to leave this show inspired to dance, to learn about classical ballet.

The Nutcracker encompasses all that is magical during the holidays. It is a story of dreams and Christmas magic danced by the very best artists. I encourage everyone to experience it. There is no better way to kick of the holiday season.

Since the publication of this interview with Mme Stepanova, there has been a last-minute change in cast. Anastasia Stashkevich will not be performing the role of Clara, as originally scheduled. The role will instead be danced by Svetlana Lunkina, former Principal Dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet and current Principal Dancer of The National Ballet of Canada. Ms Lunkina will join Vyacheslav Lopatin who will dance the role of The Nutcracker Prince.

A scene from The Nutcracker, Toronto International Ballet Theatre, 2017

News You Can Use

What: The Nutcracker, presented by Toronto International Ballet Theatre in collaboration with Bolshoi Ballet, featuring Svetlana Lunkina and Vyacheslav Lopatin; choreographed by Tatiana Stepanova

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: Saturday December 22, 2018, 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM

Where: Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St East Toronto, ON

Info and Ticketstorontoballet.ca     

© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine

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