I gave fair warning last column that I’d come back to this story, so I’m honouring my word. After all, I’m certain you’ll all want to hear about my debut performance with the National Ballet of Canada.
If you’ve ever seen me dance, you’ll know that this is an unlikely tale, a man-bites-dog story. Let me step back and bring you up to date. Last fall, I received an email inviting me to play the role of one of the two Cannon Dolls in The Nutcracker, the annual Christmas spectacle at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. And what a production it is. Other than the incredible dancing, glorious sets, stunning costumes, and brilliant music, the Cannon Dolls are the highlight of the show, though I may be an unreliable narrator. You might say the Cannon Dolls are the comic relief, perhaps unintentionally. Right in my wheelhouse.
In every show, the National Ballet of Canada invites a local celebrity of sorts to perform as a Cannon Doll. Well, they clearly ran out of celebrities, and the friends of celebrities, and people who once came within a few feet of a celebrity, and somehow there I was, next on the list. I confess I was somewhat at a loss to explain their invitation but decided not to probe. But the chance to goof around at centre stage during The Nutcracker was too much to pass up.
My younger son, Ben, an accomplished actor with a theatre degree, and I were the designated Cannon Dolls for a matinee performance a few days after Christmas. We arrived about half an hour before curtain for a “rehearsal.” While they were putting us through our paces, the real stars of the show were there with us warming up and practising some of the more intricate manoeuvres that would soon be wowing the sold-out audience. The moves Ben and I would be “performing” weren’t quite so intricate.
Ben and I listened carefully to our choreographer as the butterflies in my gut began dogfighting. After two quick run-throughs that did little to build my confidence, it was time to don our rather wacky and colourful costumes. I was informed that I was wearing the same costume that Raptor star Kyle Lowry had worn earlier in the week. They promised it had been washed.
We hung around backstage watching the performance from the wings until it was our moment in the spotlight. Ben and I followed our Cannon Master and his cannon out onto the stage. One doll was to be all gung-ho, spoiling for a fight, and eager to fire the cannon, while the other doll was to be timid and terrified, wanting nothing to do with the cannon or the battle it signals. Naturally, son Ben was the timid doll and played it to the hilt, while I was the warmongering hawk itching for a battle. Clearly, I was more persuasive because the master fired off the cannon and the war began in earnest. Ben promptly fainted (as scripted, I swear) and I performed CPR and even mimed the defibrillator paddles to bring him back. It was all great fun. After what seemed like about 20 minutes of intense aerobic thespian hijinks, we ran off stage about two minutes after we’d entered, and it was
Back in the dressing room with the pressure off, I realized the wig and colourful cap were quite tight on my gargantuan cranium. When I was finally able to extricate myself from the cap and wig, a deep line of indentation, not unlike the Grand Canyon, circled my head. Ah the price we pay for our art. No matter, it disappeared after a week or so. We enjoyed the second half of the show among our adoring fans in the audience. It is such a wonderful production, the Cannon Dolls notwithstanding.
In the days after the show, I was expecting to field some audition invitations from other ballet companies, but alas, none came.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of seven national bestsellers, including his most recent, Albatross, all published by McClelland & Stewart.