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The Nutcracker – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Director and choreographer: David Nixon

Composer: Tchaikovsky

Musical director: John Pryce-Jones

Lighting designer: Mark Jonathan

Set designer: Charles Cusick Smith

Reviewer: Laura Stimpson


What a privilege to see The Nutcracker, performed by Northern Ballet on the 120th anniversary of its (not very successful) St Petersburg premiere in 1892. The Nutcracker was commissioned following the success of Tchaikovsky’s previous ballet, Sleeping Beauty, however, with negative critiques on opening night the ballet was not expected to be a success. Tchaikovsky’s 20 minute suite extracted from the ballet, did however prove popular, and from the 1960’s, the ballet captured the attention of audiences, quickly becoming a festive tradition for many across the world.

It’s difficult not to agree with some of the original critique regarding the extravagance of this piece, and the simplicity of the storyline. This version of the Nutcracker is certainly over the top, set in the Regency period with snow scenes, a grand Christmas tree and stately home style ballrooms. The music is spectacular and the story line is simple, but extravagance is not always a bad thing. There is certainly no expense spared on the staging or exquisite costumes in this production, providing a pleasing visual spectacle throughout. A winter wonderland packed with festive cheer is created on arrival to the theatre, and this is continued throughout the performance. The set, designed by Charles Cusick Smith is truly beautiful, elegant and adaptable.

The Nutcracker is based on a Russian short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The story is centred around the Edwards family as they prepare for their Christmas party. After lots of dancing, Uncle Drosselmeyer (Darren Goldsmith) arrives with gifts, including two sets of life-sized dancing dolls, and a strange wooden soldier doll which doubles as a nutcracker for Clara (Pippa Moore) and Frederic (Jeremy Curnier). When the party ends, Clara leaves her toy by the Christmas tree and goes to bed. Uncle Drosselmeyer casts his magic, and when Clara tiptoes downstairs, unable to sleep, she is surrounded by large mice in a new room with a giant Nutcracker doll. After a trip on a magical sleigh, we go on to witness a huge battle between the Nutcracker doll and the Mouse King, further transformations, winter wonderlands and a ceremony where everyone dances in Clara’s honour, including the Sugar Plum Fairy. When Clara finds herself in the arms of her father (John Hull) and the wonderful people she has been surrounded by are gone, could it all have been a dream?

Act 1 passes quickly, it is both musically and visually beautiful and filled with action and magic. Act 2 takes on a different pace, taking the form of a showcase of individual dancing, including beautiful Arabic Princesses, Russian Cossacks and French ballet dancers as they perform for Clara. This is where Tchaikovsky’s most famous music is heard, including Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. Following this, the show ends fairly abruptly when Clara finds herself in her father’s arms and we are transported back to the house.

It’s not easy to pick stand out performers in this beautifully crafted ballet, all dancers perform with effortless grace and beauty. Darren Goldsmith’s Herr Drosselmeyer is big and bold, commanding the stage and creating much magic. Martha Leebold plays both Louise, Clara’s sister and the Sugar Plum Fairy, her performances in both rôles are truly stunning. The mice and children are played by members of the Northern Ballet Academy training school, they are incredibly professional in their delivery and a delight to watch.

Of course a special mention should also be given to the superb Northern Ballet Sinfonia, under the baton of John Pryce-Jones, who bring to life the score of some of Tchaikovsky’s greatest work with finesse.

The music is beautiful, the dancing is beautiful, the costumes and set are beautiful. The Nutcracker has become one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works and is a festive staple for many. This version will definitely appeal to those visiting the ballet for the first time, families, or anyone in search of an alternative to a pantomime this festive season.

Runs until 30th December 2012


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