Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.
After a two-year pandemic-induced absence from the stage, Shumka’s Nutcracker returned better than ever.
The Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, Clara’s Dream Choir, along with guests from the Kyiv Ballet of the National Opera of Ukraine, the legendary Virsky Ukrainian Dance Company and the Mattierin Dancers put on three shows December 17 and 18 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. They had presented two earlier shows at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre in Camrose, Alberta.
“It felt very positive to be on stage again after a two-year absence,” said Shumka’s executive Director Darka Tarnawsky.
“There are challenges to putting on a show like this during Covid, but it was worth all the effort. We heard rave reviews from media and audience alike.”
Several new features were added for this rendition of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Christmas classic, chief of which was the electrifying Roma (Gypsy) Dance performed by the Virsky dancers. This proved to be a highlight of this year’s performance and a crowd favourite.
Another change was in the choreography of the Arabian snake dance in the second half and the addition of martial arts moves in the Chinese dance, also part of the second act.
The story takes place one magical Christmas Eve, as the Stahlbaum family busily finishes last minute preparations for a grand party. A tableau is presented, and we see a Vertep, a Ukrainian puppet theatre, where Dr. Drosselmeier’s nephew entertains a group of children in the market. As the children depart with their gifts, the Vertep reveals itself as a puppet workshop. The mysterious Dr. Drosselmeier is attending to his work.
Dr. Drosselmeier brings a doll as a gift to the Stahlbaum party, which performs a delightful dance with the children. However, it is the Nutcracker doll, Drosselmeier’s gift to his goddaughter Clara, that wins her heart.
After the guests leave the party, Clara sneaks back to the darkened parlour to check on her beloved Nutcracker. The clock chimes, striking midnight. As Clara peers into the darkness, she suddenly realizes she isn’t alone, as she is surrounded by an army of menacing mice.
A cannon blast downs a battalion of mice while the Nutcracker, now come to life, leads toy soldiers into battle. The fight rages on until the Mouse King corners the Nutcracker in a duel. Clara comes to the Nutcracker’s aid and defeats the Mouse King by pulling off his tail.
The spell broken, the Nutcracker transforms to a handsome Prince who declares his eternal gratitude to his young heroine, Clara. With the beauty of swirling snowflakes in the winter wonderland around them, the Prince whisks Clara away to his fantasy fairy tale kingdom.
In Act 2, Clara and the Prince journey to the magical fairy tale kingdom. Upon their arrival at his palace, they are entertained by his friends with a magnificent dance celebrating the Carol of the Bells.
Once inside, their welcome continues as dancers from faraway lands perform for the pair: an energetic Trepak, a merry Chinese trio, elegant Spanish dancers, a graceful Sugarplum Fairy, a dazzling Hopak and more, are presented in a most spectacular fashion. Soon, the Prince asks Clara to join him in a romantic and lyrical pas de deux.
Suddenly, Clara is back in her family’s parlour, cradling her Nutcracker doll. She sighs, realizing her wonderful journey was but a fantasy. Or was it? Dr. Drosselmeier later visits with his young nephew, who bears a striking resemblance to Clara’s beloved Prince.