West Australian Ballet’s Nutcracker is on its third outing but it managed to win over an unwilling attendee, admits Nina Levy.
The Nutcracker, West Australian Ballet ·
His Majesty’s Theatre ·
It feels Grinch-y to admit, but I don’t get particularly excited about The Nutcracker.
So it’s credit to West Australian Ballet (WAB) that I walked out of seeing this particular production for the third time in six years smiling. If I must watch Nutcracker every second year, seeing a polished performance in gorgeous costumes is the way to do it.
Part of The Nutcracker’s popularity lies in its seasonal theme and much-loved Tchaikovsky score. Choreographed by former WAB Principal Dancer Jayne Smeulders, and WAB Principal Rehearsal Director/Artistic Associate Sandy Delasalle and Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella in 2016, this traditional Nutcracker pays homage to 1892’s original choreography and libretto.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1830, in London and young Clara is given a nutcracker doll by her Uncle Drosselmeyer, a magical toymaker. Drosselmeyer then turns the doll into a prince and together they travel to the Land of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, who throws them a festival that includes dances and treats from “many lands” (more on that later).
As Uncle Drosselmeyer, Christian Luck set the tone for the evening on opening night. I always find the character of Drosselmeyer a bit sinister, but Luck plays him with a warmth that leans more towards endearingly quirky than creepy.
Drosselmeyer’s cloak of many colours is the first of many enchanting costumes by Charles Cusick Smith; adorned with a glowing clock face, the angled crown of his top hat adds a surreal touch.
With the exception a Nutcracker prop malfunction, the first Act, predominantly focused on Clara’s family’s Christmas party, was charming on opening night.
With animated faces, graceful port de bras and neat footwork, the eight child guest performers were a credit to associate children’s director Lauren Murray.
Oliver Edwardson, as Clara’s brother Fritz, was a delight, his teasing and tantruming familiar to anyone with experience of a sibling relationship.
Asja Petrovski was a sweet and delicate Clara, her face and movement illuminated by the magic she witnesses. As her Nutcracker-come-to-life, Julio Blanes cut a dashing figure, impressing from the outset with the first of several glorious switch-leg grande jetés.
Act I culminates with the transformation of Clara’s home into a Winter Wonderland, with Phil R Daniels’ enchanting frieze of crystalline snowflakes and gently falling snow. Here we see the Snow Queen/Sugar Plum Fairy for the first time, danced on opening night by Candice Adea, whose pas de deux with Blanes was appropriately majestic. The 12 snowflakes were also impressive, their promenades in arabesque en fondu impeccably timed.
And so to Act II, in which our Snow Queen becomes the Sugar Plum Fairy. Resplendent in Cusick Smith’s tutu of palest gold, petite Adea was Tinkerbell-cute in the role, performing the famous solo with a lightness and calm that suits the child-like innocence of the music.
The various treat-based dances were beautifully performed; the Mirlitons a personal favourite. In their bauble encrusted outfits with flamboyant “whipped cream” hair/hat, Dayana Hardy Acuna, Keigo Muto and Carina Roberts enticed us with a crisp and playful performance.
In recent years the head-waggling Chinese Tea dance and, to a lesser extent, the highly sexualised Arabian Coffee dance, have come under much-needed scrutiny in relation to the ill-informed 19th century European stereotypes that inform their choreography. In this year’s production there have been some modifications made to the hand gestures in Chinese Tea, which is pleasing. Nonetheless, both these dances remain problematic in terms of cultural misrepresentation.
It’s the Sugar Plum Fairy/Sugar Prince pas de deux that completes the evening, and Adea and Blanes gave a radiant performance. Adea maintained her serene demeanour throughout the lengthy adagio and into the many pirouettes of her divertissement. Though Blanes had one wobbly landing, his athleticism in steps such as the double saute basque made for compelling viewing.
Under the lively baton of Jessica Gethin, West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra captured the magic of Tchaikovsky’s score, and received well-deserved enthusiastic applause at curtain call.
While Nutcracker may not be my favourite ballet, the high standard of this production – in particular of the corps, the foundation of any classical ballet – is testament to the value of repeat seasons. Even for this Grinch, West Australian Ballet’s 2020 season of Nutcracker is a sparkling success.
Pictured top are dancers of West Australian Ballet in ‘The Nutcracker. NB This is not the cast reviewed as we are waiting for photographs of Saturday night’s cast. Photo: Bradbury Photography