Canadian children taste stardom in classic ballet The Nutcracker with the Cuban National Ballet

PASTOR VALLE-GARAY / HAMILTON /
Without a doubt The Nutcracker is the most everlasting fairytale of all times. It is a story best told next to a warm fireplace on Christmas Eve. It is a story best visualized in person and in all its staged splendour at Hamilton Place, where the classic ballet will have its lavish performance three weeks from now.  
Although The Nutcracker is a story for children and about children, the tale would not be complete without adult participation, and that is precisely what has kept The Nutcracker so alive for 117 years. In Canada the production has brought together entire families. They have enthusiastically supported every step taken by the children and will attend every performance.
Once in the theatre the entire community surrenders to the extraordinary music and the classic dance and allow their collective imagination to be transported into a wonderful world of dreams and make-believe. At this point The Nutcracker deftly wraps everyone in the mythical warmth of a magic evening and once again everyone on the theatre is a child again.  Such stuff has turned the fairy tale into a truly fantastic story for children of all ages.

At Hamilton Place the adult roles in the classic Christmas extravaganza are brilliantly performed by some of the greatest ballet artists in the world, the Principal Dancers in the Cuban National Ballet. Complementing the picture nicely, well over 100 Canadian children contribute their touch of perfection and delightful entertainment to the magical evening.   

Unquestionably The Nutcracker is all about dancing and music. However it is also a world in which visions of fantasy really do come true and at that the Canadian children simply excel. Their imaginations take flight into the world of make-believe and turn it into a wonderful journey for everyone in the audience. We become so mesmerized by the dancers’ astonishing leaps and impossible turns that we momentarily forget that the dream roles of sweet candy canes and sugar plums, fairies and princesses, dancing snowflakes floating as softly and as effortless as delicate feathers blown in the winter breeze and legions of mice battling each other are actually being interpreted to perfection by an ensemble of extremely talented children, our children.

The traditional story begins on Christmas Eve when Magician Dosselmayer, little Clara’s godfather, presents her with a nutcracker shaped like a wooden soldier. When the gift breaks in a tug-of-war between Clara and her brother, the fantasy starts. As soon as everyone has gone to sleep for the night, all the little toys tucked under the family Christmas tree, played by the Canadian children, come as alive and as real as only a child’s imagination will allow.

It is The Nutcracker in all its colourful, unforgettable splendour. It is as authentic and original as only the genius of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, artistic director of the Cuban National Ballet, could conceive.

Choreographed by Madame Alonso on the original by Lev Ivanov (music by Russian composer Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky; scripted by Marius Petipa and based on the free version of Alexandre Dumas Pere of the story The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice, by E.T.A. Hoffmann), The Nutcracker was first staged in Russia’s St. Petersburg Theatre on December 17, 1892.

One hundred and seventeen years after its initial debut a fresh and exuberant The Nutcracker returns to Hamilton Place to launch the traditional Christmas Season. It accomplishes the task in grand style. Co-produced by the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble, The Nutcracker, as beautiful and dazzling as ever, features the best dancers of the Cuban National Ballet accompanied by a superb ensemble of Canadian children.  

This year’s spectacle at Hamilton Place however represents more than just another repeat performance of the Christmas classic. It is unquestionably the crowning glory and a mark of success for a dedicated bunch of Canadian children in their quest for a rightful place in the most demanding art of ballet. For the dozens of children with the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble dancing in The Nutcracker represents the culmination of a real magic journey, a dream come true and a huge personal accomplishment.

After months of rehearsals under the guidance of Master Instructors with the Cuban School of Ballet, the Canadian children will dance in Hamilton exactly the same roles that they have been invited to perform for the first time ever on January 2010 as special guests of the Cuban National Ballet in the hallowed stage of Havana, Cuba.

For their parents, relatives and friends, as well as for the general public, this Nutcracker represents a much anticipated and a most exciting preview, a sneak peak as it were, of the sugar plums and fairy tales which, now staged in the Hamilton winter, will be performed in January 2010 in tropical Havana before one of the most discerning audiences in the world of ballet. A tall order indeed for the little guys but one that the children’s proven talents and abilities, their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm will make Canada proud.

In January 2009, Belma Gurdil-Diamante CEO, Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble, signed a working agreement establishing the Cuban School of Ballet, Hamilton Affiliate of the National Ballet of Cuba. Under the agreement Master Instructors from the National Ballet of Cuba would teach the Cuban ballet technique to selected students with the CBYE.

Under the terms of the agreement classes would be taught by professional ballet masters from the BNC. Classes would be designed as a combination of theoretical-practical engagement with the technique and interpretive concepts of the Cuban style of ballet and focus on the physical preparation and performance qualities of the dancer.

“Signing that agreement was truly a momentous event for us,” said Ms. Gurdil-Diamante.

“Madame Alonso, artistic director and founder of BNC, was so impressed by the discipline and the talent of our local young dancers that she agreed wholeheartedly to open a Cuban School of Ballet in Hamilton. It took a year of negotiations and a great deal of work (to reach the agreement) but it was well worth every minute we spent working on it. Look at us now: almost exactly a year after signing it, our dancers have been invited to share the stage in January 2010 with the Cuban National Ballet and to perform The Nutcracker in Havana. It is absolutely a thrilling accomplishment!”

For anyone who can trade a week of winter in Canada for sunny Havana in January 2010, attending the performance of The Nutcracker in the Cuban capital would be a real treat. If that is not possible, Hamilton Place will satisfy the most demanding tastes for the Christmas classic of all times.

The Nutcracker, featuring The National Ballet of Cuba, direction by Alicia Alonso, will performed at Hamilton Place for School Matinees on Thursday, December 10th  at 10:30 AM and on Friday, December 11th at 10:30 AM.

For the general public the performances will take place at Hamilton Place on Friday, December 11th at 7:30 PM; on Saturday, December 12th at 2:00 PM and at 7:30 PM and on Sunday, December 13th at 2:00 PM.

A ballet talk by dance critic Garry Smith will take place at Piano Nobile, Hamilton Place 45 minutes before the performance. Tickets start at $34.50 and can be obtained calling TICKETMASTER (905) 527-7666 or contacting www.ticketmaster.ca

The Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble welcomes the ballet performances with the Hamilton Nutcracker Festival featuring the Sugar Plum Fair, a wonderful array of gifts specially selected to warm the hearts and to accessorize the home at Christmas time. The Sugar Plum Fair takes place on December 11th from 12:00 PM to 9:00 PM; on December 12th from 12:00 PM to 9:00 PM and on December 13th from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM at Hamilton Place, 10 MacNab Street South, Hamilton, Ontario. For more information call (905) 512-1453, contact info@cbye.ca or www.cbye.ca.

*Senior Scholar, Universidad de York

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