Just when I thought things couldn’t get more exciting and random in life I get an email from the National Ballet. They have invited me to take part in this season’s performance of The Nutcracker as a Cannon Doll. Traditionally, the National Ballet asks Toronto luminaries, personalities and politicians to join the production in this small role. For those of you not familiar with The Nutcracker story, the Cannon Dolls are colourfully costumed, Russian Petrouchka dolls in Act I who shoot a cannon into the audience to begin the battle scene.
James Kudelka’s 1995 version of this evergreen seasonal classic is a perfect gem of a ballet, affectionate and reflective, at once cheeringly traditional yet freshly attuned to the rhythms and accents of the contemporary.
Rarely have the dreamscapes and wonder of childhood fantasy, the allure of spectacle and the mood of reverie been integrated in such a seamless blend of dazzling stagecraft, virtuosic choreography and ravishing design. Kudelka’s gentle re-shaping of the narrative releases the story (based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Christmas tale) into new thematic territory. Follow the quarrelling siblings Misha and Marie as they move not just through marvellous and extraordinary experiences but through surprising phases of understanding as they prepare to leave childhood behind and enter the very different world of adolescence.
The costumes and sets by Santo Loquasto themselves cast a spell, evoking an enchanted, rustic world of long-gone Imperial Russia, a place where folk rituals and the cycles of nature make way for the magical, ice-coated world of the Snow Queen and the spectacular beauty of the golden palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The entire production, underscored by Tchaikovsky’s glorious, timeless music, is like rediscovering a beloved heirloom and seeing it as though for the first time.
I was shocked and honoured to be asked. I’m a Toronto luminary, WTF. There have been 504 Cannon Dolls over the years that include Mats Sundin, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Browning, Rick Mercer and Doug Gilmour. You might have read the news earlier in December about Rob Ford’s Cannon Doll appearance.
I’m not a stereotypical fashion girl with a ballet obsession. I never took lessons as a young girl (I have neither the build nor feet to be a ballet dancer) but I do love the art form. I’d kill for a ballet dancers legs and watching them move on stage is sublime. It probably comes as no surprise to you all that I jumped at the chance. Thankfully, the National Ballet asked me to bring a guest so that I didn’t have to do this all alone or with a stranger. I brought my good friend Jason Morikawa, buyer at Holt Renfrew.
The role required no dancing (thank god) and not much preparation. We arrived at the Four Season Centre thirty minutes before the show started. Ballet legend, Rex Harrington led Jason and I through our moves. We were nervous as all hell. He showed us a video of the performance with two people from So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Of course they were amazing and their improv was great. Jason and I are great with spontaneous funny stuff when we are alone and there isn’t an audience but I didn’t think our brand of humour would translate on stage. Thankfully, the Cannon Dolls had personalities to work with. Jason was the introverted doll and of course, I was the extroverted doll.
Our time on stage was short, about five minutes. We basically followed the dancer who was in control of the cannon. We were given two moments each to express our Cannon Doll personality facing the audience and then we fell back to the side of the stage and continued to act like idiots until the end of the scene. The build up was more daunting than being on stage. The audience is this vast pit of black. I stared out into the nothingness as I jumped and kicked around on stage expressing my extrovert Cannon Doll personality. I couldn’t even see the orchestra. It’s a blessing not seeing the audience.
The Four Seasons Centre is incredible backstage. When it opened, I wrote about the building for BlogTO. We didn’t get to see backstage in 2007 so this was a real treat. The sets are massive and pretty incredible for The Nutcracker. The sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto were stunning. The kids in the production were so incredibly cute, especially the little mice from my scene. Jason and I were squealing all over the place.
My Mom and our friend Monique of MoonRox came out to support Jason and me. We joined them after the intermission to watch the second act together.
Thank you to the National Ballet for selecting me to be part of their annual Nutcracker tradition. It was quite the honour and I’m still pinching myself about it. I have a few things that I will always remember from this experience.
1.Â Watch out for the large tree, it took out Mats Sundin one year.
2.Â There are a lot of dick jokes in ballet.
3.Â The amazing difference of on-stage grace and backstage panting of the dancers
The Nutcracker ends today but check out upcoming productions like Sleeping Beauty and Hamlet for the 2011 – 2012 season.