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Friday, December 9, 2011

A Non-Critic's Critique of The Nutcracker

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Vaguely Canadian, but whos nitpicking?
  • Vaguely Canadian, but who's nitpicking?

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker opened last night at the State Theatre at Playhouse Square. It's the second year the Canadian troupe has made the holiday trip to Cleveland, and with an orchestra of 46 local musicians and a slew of young dancers-in-training culled from area schools, it was a warm, welcoming reunion.

Brian Perchaluk's glorious painted sets made delicious backdrops to Paul Daigle's frothy costumes seemingly crafted from miles of tulle, bushels of brocade, and enough sequins and sparkles to make a serious dent in the world's supply. While bland choreography left some scenes feeling overlong, the dancers executed their moves with aplomb.

Sure, a first-act hockey game and dancers dressed as Mounties gave the Russian classic a vaguely northern spin; but since no one shouted out "It's a nutcracker, eh?" (there is no dialogue, after all), the Canadian accent seemed moot.

On the other hand ...

RWB artistic director Andre Lewis proved to have a lovely French-Canadian accent after he was pushed out from behind the curtains to regale the audience with a few minutes of idle chitchat. After running down a bit of company history, repeatedly noting his delight in returning to Cleveland, and even pledging allegiance to the pleasant ongoing relationship between Canada and the U.S. of A., Lewis admitted that he had been tasked with killing time until the late arrivals could be seated. It was, in fact, about 7:08 p.m. when Lewis made his escape and the 7 p.m. curtain finally rose. At 7:20, ushers were still showing latecomers to their seats, much to the chagrin of those whose view of the dancing was eclipsed by the full moons of their tardy row mates.

Then there was the usual symphony of cellphone ringers and screaming infants, set off by darkness-piercing flares emanating from the phones of texters like the blinding beams shooting from the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I know that, like all cultural institutions, theaters struggle to attract a younger audience. And if letting the donors of tomorrow come in late — packing booze, cellphones, and screaming offspring — is what it takes to ensure the future of live theater, it's hard to argue against it.

Still, I couldn't help thinking of the audiences at the circa-1600 Globe Theatre in London: milling around in front of the stage, shouting out impromptu dialogue and directions, hurling the occasional piece of rotten vegetation, and proving altogether impolite, inconsiderate, and self-involved.

Maybe that's not where we're headed. But I wouldn't bet against it. — Elaine T. Cicora

Nutcracker performances continue through Sunday, December 11. For tickets, go to playhousesquare.org.

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