A delicious confection: The Tokyo Ballet in The Nutcracker

Streaming free, online to February 5, 2023
Recorded at Hyogo Performing Arts Center KOBELCO Grand Hall, Nishinomiya; December 23, 2022

They may be based in the Japanese capital, but the old town street scene that opens The Tokyo Ballet’s The Nutcracker suggests we are somewhere in Central Europe. As the guests arrive in the gently falling snow, it is a real picture and sets the tone perfectly for Yukari Saito’s very traditional production, which really is a treat from start to finish.

While the house doesn’t look particularly grand from the outside, once inside, the living room certainly is. Unusually, there are no children onstage. Instead, the youngsters of the family, are all played by company members. Depicting them as teenagers obviously helps but, even so, there is none of the grating awkwardness or embarrassment that usually comes with adults playing children. Here, the move not only works but also allows pointework to be used in their dances, which gives so much more choreographic scope.

Centre stage is the very young-looking Drosselmeyer, quite a foppish character in his black breeches, purple waistcoat and orange frock coat. Warm, friendly and adored by all, if a little batty, Dan Tsukamoto gets his eccentricities just right.

Akira Akiyama (Masha) and Dan Tsukamoto (Drosselmeyer)
in Tokyo Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Photo Shoko Matsuhashi / NBS

He comes with a few magical tricks and, more importantly, a puppet show that presages events to come. Another nod in that direction comes when Fritz (Kurumi Kato) breaks the Nutcracker given to Masha, as she is called here, using a puppet of the Mouse King.

If the living room is big, Masha’s bedroom is huge. What look like 16th-century tall, narrow mullion windows only serve to emphasise its height. It’s here that the mice appear and her dream adventure starts.

In this most family-friendly of productions, those rodents are actually quite cute, although Kentaro Goto as the Mouse King cuts a more raffish figure in his cape.

The battle is very much a choreographed ensemble dance rather than a real set-to. Unusual but very effective is Saito’s having the foot soldiers danced by women on pointe.

In the gently romantic pas de deux that follows and the more formal Grand pas that rounds the ballet off, Akira Akiyama as Masha and Arata Miyagawa as the Nutcracker Prince prove a perfectly matched couple.

Dancing with snowflakes
The Land of Snow in Tokyo Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Photo Shoko Matsuhashi / NBS

It’s easy to see why Akiyama is so highly regarded. She allies strength with a lovely soft delicacy. She finds remarkable lightness is everything as she speaks with her whole body. Her arms have a beautiful breath in particular. In the splendid Grand pas, she glitters like cut-glass crystal.

Miyagawa is an elegant and undemonstrable partner who lets his dance do all the talking. He may not be the tallest of dancers but even the trickiest lifts were nailed with precision.

The Act II divertissements take place in the bowels of the now giant tree, the dancers for each first seen waving from advent calendar-like windows in its branches. The big question these days is how are the Arabian and Chinese dances going to be tackled. True to form, and in keeping with everything else, Saito keeps it all very traditional. There’s no disguising the inspiration for and heritage of each, although each does very much focus on technique.

Yurika Mikumo and Shoma Ikemoto show bags of flair in the Spanish, and lots of allure from her. The Arabian is a delicious pas de deux for the Emi Masamoto and Braulio Alvarez, both in harem pants, backed by a quartet of women in floaty veils. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the Chinese (Nana Mogami and Shuntaro Ifuku) that comes closest to crossing the line. The many leaps and turns are fine. I’m just a lot less sure about the stylised ‘Chinese’ prancing walks. The jumps get bigger in the Russian dance (Akimi Denda, Sou Toriumi and Tsukasa Okazaki) which comes with some impressive barrel turns. Finally, the Mirlitons is a French Dance with Maria Adachi and Kurumi Anzai, supported by Suguru Otsuka, looking suitably chic in their summery pastel dresses.

The Waltz of the Flowers in the Land of Sweets
in Tokyo Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Photo Shoko Matsuhashi / NBS

The Land of Sweets is finally realised for the big Waltz of the Flowers. The dancing blooms here are all-white, which sets them off nicely against the vivid sugary backdrop. And it is certainly a confectionery paradise, if maybe a dentist’s nightmare: boiled sweets for lampshades, candy sticks for pillars, with huge ice cream cones atop, and more sugary twists for decoration.

All told, a super way to bring warmth into a chill winter’s evening.

The Tokyo Ballet in The Nutcracker is available online here until 1pm BST, February 5, 2023.