The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in Amsterdam

Dutch National Ballet at Het Muziektheater
December 24, 2015

Maggie Foyer

This Nutcracker has a distinctly Dutch flavour while taking you through a child’s fantasy of Christmas and into the bigger picture of a life journey.

The prologue in the attic is snug and warm while the snow falls outside. The children are being washed and dressed by nanny while older sister, Louise, (Nadia Yanowsky), preens in the mirror. Little Clara, played by Eline van der Korst, is rather shy but with eyes wide open and a lively imagination. Her passage to maturity, exchanging the doll for the young man, is portrayed with poignant sensitivity and understanding.

Designs by Toer van Schayk, who co-choreographed the ballet with Wayne Eagling, imagine Amsterdam life of a past age: the grand house of the Staalboom’s, skating on the frozen canal and a Christmas party where the flirting and dancing involves all ages. Uncle Drosselmeijer, Casey Herd, is an imposing presence and a dapper illusionist, his nephew (Artur Shesterikov) endears himself to little Clara – and to the audience – when he offers himself as her dancing partner in place of the badly behaving brother, Fritz.

Young Gyu Choi as The NutcrackerPhoto Angela Sterling
Young Gyu Choi as The Nutcracker
Photo Angela Sterling

The battle of the mice and toy soldiers is hugely entertaining with mouse traps recycled as cannons hurling cheese balls at the fort, a brave first aid crew and a sorry cage of soldier POWs. The Mouse King, played by Roman Artyushkin is a flamboyant and rather camp mouse, continues to battle through snow and into the magic kaleidoscope of Drosselmeijer workshop but is finally defeated by the cat’s paw.

Clara, Maia Makhateli, who morphs into her mature self during the battle, dances alternately with The Nutcracker, Young Gyu Choi, in a grotesque mask and the Prince, Shesterikov. Both man are exceptional dancers with the elegant Shesterikov a whisker ahead on style. The opening of the second act has a thrilling pas de trois for Clara, Nutcracker and Drosselmeijer, as she is swept skywards in moves that have her ducking and diving like a magical bird.

Eagling has choreographed a grand pas which keeps its traditional roots but is lightened with interesting new touches. The ‘Sugar Plum’ still trips lightly on pointe and Makhateli does this exquisitely and gets the frilly edge on her gargouillades. Together they pull out the stops in a virtuoso coda which never loses its charm by over doing the grand.

The national dances dressed in brilliant colours are folk ensembles, rather than virtuoso display although Aya Okumura gets her Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment in the Chinese Dance, and Zanowsky continues to flirt shamelessly with her party beau in the Greek Dance. However I wish Eagling would change the nasty Arabian for something more light-hearted and entertaining (English National Ballet have thankfully toned down the whips and chains in his version for them).

The Waltz of the Flowers is a highlight: a tough ensemble piece that needs exact timing and precision dance, was led by a strong quartet of Suzanna Kaic, James Stout, Sasha Mukhamedov and Jared Wright. The packed house on Christmas Eve proved that the ballet still retains its popularity.

Aya Okumura in the Chinese DancePhoto Angela Sterling
Aya Okumura in the Chinese Dance
Photo Angela Sterling