After an absence of a year, the Royal City Youth Ballet returned to the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre last weekend with its version of The Nutcracker.
The company has plainly spent the time revamping the entire show, re-working the script, adding new numbers and freshening and updating others, as well as replacing many costumes and renewing the sets.
The result was outstanding, stunning those who’ve been attending these presentations for years and delighting newcomers.
It didn’t take long to see at least one of the changes. A perky mouse appeared onstage at one point and urged the crowd to clap. In fact, the battle between the mice and the toy soldiers was much enhanced, adding colour and action to this early part of the ballet. Among other things, a huge wedge of cheese was wheeled on stage, and a cannon fired as battle continued.
Time lapses between scenes were tightened, with the heroine, Clara (Tess Browning) meeting her prince in front of an elegant curtain before they headed off to the Land of Snow to visit its graceful denizens.
Time flew by and after the intermission, it was time to discover the Land of Sweets. These dances are some of the most beloved in all the ballet repertoire so few changes were made but a group of angels dressed in silver who welcomed Clara and her Nutcracker prince to their country were a shining addition that had the crowd exclaiming.
This year, the cast was larger than in some years past, or at least appeared to be so, with many more younger children involved but at some points, most notably in the Russian Trepak dance, a big group of talented older dancers really provided a level of professionalism to the show. The dance of the Mirleton Dolls was reworked and re-costumed, with young girls added to the fun, making the entire scene more understandable to a modern audience.
Some of the principal dancers spent an extremely busy afternoon. Megan Schwartz danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Star, and the Snow Queen roles and Ian Szkolak was Clara’s father, the Snow King, and the Sugar Plum Cavalier.
Kristian Arciaga, who was Clara’s prince, was seen in several other numbers, and Browning herself found time to perform as the Snow Princess.
All the magic was still there, but it was clear that considerable thought, effort and time had been put into ensuring that the company continues to move forward, providing both a great showcase for young talent and an exciting, much-anticipated holiday event.