Who’s That Cannon Doll? Guest Appearances in The Nutcracker
December 6, 2022
by Caroline Dickie

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Former Toronto Raptors Matt Thomas and Kyle Lowry with Alexander Skinner. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

James Kudelka’s imaginative staging of The Nutcracker is full of surprises, not least of which is the opportunity to spot famous faces amongst the armies of warring cats and mice in the Battle Scene of Act I. The comic pair of Cannon Dolls who help to kickstart the action are typically cast with local or Canadian celebrities, a tradition dating back to Celia Franca’s Nutcracker, when celebrities performed as Stretcher Bearers.

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Wheelchair Tennis Athletes Anne-Marie Dolinar and Gillian Cruz. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

The Cannon Dolls appear midway through Act I flanking a company dancer who fires a confetti-filled cannon into the audience, the start of an epic battle between The Nutcracker and the Mouse Tsar. Dressed almost identically in colourful costumes and hats, the Cannon Dolls are distinguished by their personalities – one is timid, the other full of bravado. This duality is a convention common to children’s stories and the only hard and fast rule that guest performers must follow, apart from their spacing onstage. The Cannon Dolls decide for themselves how to behave and interact within this framework, often spontaneously, and the results are always a highlight of the show.

The long list of Cannon Doll “alumni” includes Canadian Olympians and Paralympians, politicians, journalists, professional athletes, visual artists, writers and musicians. Among them are Canada’s most decorated swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, former Toronto Raptors player Kyle Lowry, author Emma Donoghue and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

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Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner with Heather Odgen. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

The 2021/22 season was the first time that guest celebrities did not join the company onstage for live performances of Kudelka’s The Nutcracker, the result of pandemic safety restrictions. Determined not to lose the Cannon Dolls entirely, members of the National Ballet’s administrative and artistic staffs volunteered to perform the roles instead, a heartfelt expression of the solidarity and commitment that sustained the company through that challenging time.

As the National Ballet resumes the tradition of including guest performers in The Nutcracker this season, we invite you to revisit some of our famous Cannon Dolls of the past.

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Col. Chris Hadfield and Julia Ostrowski with Trygve Cumpston. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

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