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A Singular Sensation

The world-famous Radio City Rockettes make their Canadian debut with their trademark eye-high kicks—right onto the stage of the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular promises to be exactly that: an electrifying 90-minute show with the world’s best known dancers in sequined and feathered costumes.

For more than 70 years, the Rockettes have been entertaining audiences with their flawless synchronicity as a row of identically clad women perform 300 kicks a show. Considered one of the most prestigious careers for a female dancer, the company puts its dancers through the paces with a gruelling schedule of shows six days a week.

Although they have performed on stages across the United States, this is the first time the Rockettes have set foot on a Canadian stage. Not because there was a lack of interest north of the border, but simply because no Canadian venue could host such a lavish production until now. The National Ballet of Canada, which previously occupied the Hummingbird Centre’s stage with its seasonal staging of The Nutcracker, is now ensconced at its new home, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, freeing up the Hummingbird’s stage and schedule to host the Rockettes’ cast and crew of more than a hundred for six weeks.

A cherished holiday tradition, the Rockettes dazzle with their precision dancing, which incorporates tap, jazz and ballet all in one show. Two numbers, the Parade of Wooden Soldiers and The Living Nativity, are such audience hits that the choreography has remained unchanged since they debuted in 1933. Drawing gasps and collective breath-holding, the Parade of Wooden Soldiers has the Rockettes getting blown over by a cannon and falling in a domino effect across the stage, while The Living Nativity incorporates real animals—three camels, five sheep and two donkeys. Other numbers include Santa’s Workshop with the Rockettes dressed as rag dolls, Christmas in New York with dancing snowmen and Teddy Bear’s Dream featuring bears from around the world (the costumes weigh between 30 to 60 pounds). The Toronto show also features a special number, the 12 Days of Christmas, an intensive seven-and-a-half-minute tap dance through the days approaching Christmas.Offstage, the choreography is just as complex. There are eight costume changes throughout the show, some which need to be accomplished in 90 seconds. That means 160 costumes that must be zipped or buttoned, hats affixed on heads, earrings on lobes and gloves put on hands. To keep the show running at a steady clip, being prepared offstage is as essential as being prepared onstage. Dressers have their own backstage choreography, helping the dancers to get into their costumes with as much synchronization as their renowned kicks.

Equally as alluring as the dancers are those costumes. Sequins, fur, feathers and top hats—all the trimmings of a fabulous costume trunk—are de rigueur for the Rockettes. The height of old-fashioned glamour, the Rockettes are the envy of little girls who have aspirations to be a dancer. “Every little girl wants to wear lipstick, fur and diamonds,” says Jocelyne Levesque, one of the dancers in the Canadian production.

Costumes are painstakingly tailored to each Rockette and at the end of each day, a wardrobe team laboriously re-sews every missing sequin or loose button to ensure that each costume is in perfect condition for the next show’s audience who will be seeing the Rockettes for the first time or for the tenth.

The iconic entertainers have left a lasting impression on generations of audiences with their thousand-watt smiles and gorgeous gams. Surely their performance will become a venerated holiday tradition for Toronto for years to come.

Tickets are $45 to $100; call 416-872-2262 to purchase tickets and for a complete schedule. Bring an unwrapped toy to the show and the Rockettes will deliver it to Toy Mountain charity drive. Two Canadians will be part of the Rockettes debut here in Toronto. Find out what it means to one of them in Casting Call.

To get yourself as glammed up as the Rockettes, see Paint Yourself Red.—Linda Luong

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