Music: Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Artistic Director: Konstantin Uralsky
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
A perennial Christmas favourite, with an appeal across the generations, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker has been entertaining audiences with the ballet version of Hoffmann’s 1819 story of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King since 1892. The Russian State Ballet and Opera House are now touring their version of the ballet throughout the UK.
The story is whimsical and absurd, but its purpose is to provide the excuse for a series of set-piece balletic highlights. Marie and her family are celebrating Christmas in the company of her eccentric magician godfather Drosselmeyer, who brings some toys to life for the children’s entertainment. He also presents Marie with a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier. As the clock strikes midnight, more magic brings the Nutcracker and other toy soldiers to life to do battle with the Mouse King and his rodent army. The Mouse King is forced to flee and the Nutcracker soldier transforms into a handsome Prince.
Marie and the Prince are transported to a magical realm of dancing snowflakes and living dolls, but face a further attack by the mouse army, which ends in their defeat. A victory celebration follows hosted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort featuring dances from many different countries. As the dancing reaches its zenith we are returned to the domestic setting which opened the show, moments after midnight, to find that all we have seen is but the dream of the young Marie, cradling her toy Nutcracker doll in her arms.
The scale of this production is lavish in all aspects. The backcloths are elegant and apt to the different settings, with the celebration ball set against a glitteringly opulent ballroom interior. Costumes are elegant and help to differentiate the characters. Lighting and other effects are well-judged and slickly delivered. But of course, the success of The Nutcracker rests on the music itself, and the skill of the dancers.
There is no questioning the musical skill of Tchaikovsky, who was also smart enough to release a taster of the piece two years ahead of the ballet, as The Nutcracker Suite, which helped ensure the acclaim of the finished article. For this show, the score was in the care of the Astrakhan Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Evgenii Kirilov. Over two dozen musicians delivered an intense performance of considerable emotional depth, while also playing with a liveliness and lightness of touch to bring out the more delicate moments of the ballet. Their playing was first rate.
The dancing did not disgrace the music. The range of dance styles required is considerable and calls for an ensemble approach from upwards of 20 dancers to deliver some of the more spectacular set pieces. There were no weak elements across the whole range and some wonderful synchronisation from the more junior members of Corps in, for example, the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the Dance of the Reed Pipes, and the sinuous and delicate Arabian dance. The juniors set a high standard for the principal dancers and the audience was rewarded with performances of power and poise from The Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Coqueluche as the highlight of the victory celebrations.
For many people, The Nutcracker is the true curtain-raiser to Christmas, bringing a special magic to the advent season. This production holds nothing back in any department, and the audience was rewarded with a show of great power and presence.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed