It may be a classical ballet, but there are a few surprises in store at The Nutcracker…
The Nutcracker is one of the world’s most famous ballets, but it’s a bit of a departure for Northern Ballet. This is a company that brought George Orwell’s 1984 to the stage, revealed the truth behind the legend of Casanova and told the story of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas through dance. They’re not afraid to push the boundaries of dance and they have a way with storytelling that’s rarely seen – but The Nutcracker is different.
Although there’s a loose story behind Clara’s adventures, the focus is really on the music and the movement – and you can get lost in it. Tchaikovsky’s score is played beautifully by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and the further you get into the show, the more you realise that the music is incredibly familiar. Even if you’ve never seen The Nutcracker before, these songs have made their way into our lives, but here you can see them as originally intended, coupled with delicate dance numbers that will make you truly appreciate the immense talent of Northern Ballet’s dancers.
It all begins with an innocent Christmas party. Formal dances are broken by excited children leaping across the stage and the arrival of a mysterious guest. Herr Drosselmeyer is a magician and an entertainer, and Mlindi Kulashe brings a little bit of pantomime swagger to the role. That’s the beauty of The Nutcracker – it’s an exercise in classical form, but it has moments of pure, unadulterated fun that will keep the kids entertained. And indeed, Drosselmeyer is always waiting in the wings, like the clown at the circus, to make sure the little ones have something light-hearted and engaging to focus on.
Of course, us adults are in for a treat too. From the very first glimpse of Clara, bickering with her brother, to the flurry of snowflakes dancing across the stage and the famous appearance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, we’re treated to every classical manoeuvre in the book, from pointe work to assemblé, grand jeté and á la seconde turns. But it’s not all traditional and there are a few surprises in store. One of the highlights for me was the French doll dance. Stunted and mechanical, like a wind-up doll, it really brought these full-sized toys to life.
And then there were the mice. This unlikely army, with their distinctive dance moves and their incredible costumes, won over the audience and added a little humour to proceedings. I have to say, I never expected to see flossing in a ballet, but it worked a treat. Joseph Taylor made a mighty fine Mouse King, twirling his tail and grabbing his tummy for big belly-laughs.
So far, I’ve mentioned two dancers, none of which are in the starring roles – and there’s a reason for that. The Nutcracker is a ballet that showcases the brilliance of the entire cast. As you move through Clara’s adventure, you’ll meet a string of unusual characters who all take centre stage, so it’s hard to pick out a favourite – and that is surely a sign of a ballet done very well indeed.
The Nutcracker is playing at Leeds Grand Theatre until Sunday 16th December 2018.