New Victoria Theatre, Woking
December 1, 2018
It’s good to be challenged but sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit back and just let a ballet wash over you without having to think too much. David Nixon’s The Nutcracker for Northern Ballet, complete with newly redesigned Act I costumes and some choreographic changes, lets you do just that. It may not have the darkness or mystery of some versions (or the original tale), but it’s a fine festive treat.
Nixon sets the story in Regency England, in the Edwards family home, where all are gathered together to celebrate the festivities. Not a moment of music is wasted, even the overture, during which we witness servants busying themselves with preparations for the forthcoming party.
It’s here that we are introduced to Frederic, Clara’s extremely annoying brother. Captured delightfully by Kevin Peoung, remarkably convincing as a young teenager, he never misses a chance to tease Clara and her (presumably) older sister, Louise, and generally annoy the servants.
Played by Abigail Cockrell, Clara is youthful and somewhat naïve. There was a nice sense of her wonderment at the various goings on, especially when she and the Nutcracker find themselves in a fantasy land after the battle with the Mouse King.
Clara clearly has a close bond with and looks up to her sister, Louise. Sarah Chun was a pretty as a picture. It’s all to do with technique of course, but she’s one of those dancers who always seems to be able to find time. Even her smaller developpés seem to have that moment of suspension as they stretch out way beyond the end of her toes. It is only appropriate that it is Louise, and thus Chun, who reappears in Act II as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Back at the party, there’s plenty of scope for delighting in the antics of some of the grown-ups, Matthew Topliss’ Gran Da Edwards in particular. For the children, Nixon always calls on a local school and here the youngsters of the Susan Robinson School of Ballet in Byfleet did a fine job.
The genteel and pleasing dancing is interrupted by the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer. In his long red and gold frock coat and black trousers, Mlindi Kulashe cut a fine figure as the showman master of ceremonies as, with just the right touch of flamboyance, he produced his life-size dancing dolls and, of course, a Nutcracker for Clara.
With eight infantrymen and three cavalrymen against just three adult mice, albeit backed up by children, the battle is rather one sided. It also lacks punch. There’s a lot of posturing from the Mouse King and a lot of marching up and down and pointing guns at mice off-stage, but very little fighting. I couldn’t help thinking it’s also unfortunate that the Nutcracker runs the Mouse King through from behind, even of he is about to do for Clara.
Lack of numbers are no problem in the two big set piece waltzes, however. Despite both only having eight dancers, ‘Snowflakes’ and ‘Flowers’ are both full of delightful patterns. The latter also has some gorgeous tutus.
Nixon’s Act II character dances are super too; definitely a cut above most. The reworked Spanish dance is now a male solo with an amazing number of turns of different sorts. Riku Ito gave it all the flair and strut that one would expect. I also enjoyed the bouncy and fun Chinese dance by Filippo Di Vilio and George Liang; and the pink-frocked French artistos of the French dance (Mirlitons), performed by Dominique Larosse, Eneko Amorós Zaragoza and Abigail Prudames, which again includes a tricky male solo. The Arabian trio is silky smooth and the Russian rammed with the usual energy. I just wished for a little more involvement from the Nutcracker Prince and Clara who watch from above, and who, apart from some polite clapping at the end of each dance, sat rather expressionless.
There’s plenty of expression in the big pas de deux, though. Chun and her Cavalier, Jonathan Hanks, sailed through it with aplomb. Chun especially nailed everything absolutely. She has stood out every time I’ve seen her this autumn and is definitely one to watch.
But perhaps the best thing about the performance was seeing the many children present thrilled and entranced by what they were watching. Just another aspect of this Nutcracker that sent you away with a warm glow.
Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker is on at the Leeds Grand Theatre to December 16. Visit www.leedsgrandtheatre.com to book tickets.