New Victoria Theatre, Woking
The lights are on in town and there’s enough chocolate on display in all shops to bring on a diabetic coma… but it’s Northern Ballet’s enchanting performance of The Nutcracker which really announces the start of the festive season.
David Nixon’s 2007 production is joyous. Nixon is billed as choreographer, director, costume design and scenario writer—perhaps the reason the package hangs so cohesively together.
The show opens with a host of very talented children (all trained locally at the Susan Robinson School of Ballet) and hidden amongst them Racheal Gillespie playing Clara. This petite dancer has the gift of eternal youth—it wasn't until she displayed her outstanding footwork that I clocked that she was one of the professionals! She easily passes for a twelve-year-old on stage.
Northern Ballet’s gleeful ensemble bring the family chaos of a beautifully attired Edwardian Christmas to life. Excited youngsters try to break into the living room, which is guarded behind closed doors through which mum and dad bustle. Across the front of the stage, a wealth of playful choreography incorporates wooden sword fighting, children tussling and interactions with the doddery grandparents. This is balletic storytelling at its finest.
Finally, the children tumble through into the party in a great heap and the living room is decked out in Christmas splendour. This is the kind of Christmas scene found in picture books and the icing on the cake is the arrival of the magical Uncle Drosselmeyer (Mlindi Kulash) who brings gifts for the children and spectacle for the adults.
Kulash is an athletic, powerful dancer who negotiates his cane and cloak with panache. The ensemble continues to delight and the introduction of toy horse costumes and wooden prams has the audience chuckling.
Clara falls asleep with her newly acquired nutcracker toy, and her dreams are full of battling rats and toy soldiers. The nutcracker triumphs and suddenly transforms into Clara's human consort, whisking her away into a snowy fairyland.
Act two opens with the pair dancing their way to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and a variety of other exotic guests. Sadly, the storytelling is rather abandoned and a reel of beautiful set pieces ensue, but some of the magical excitement is lost by the fifth or sixth number.
The boys outshine the girls here—a new piece has been added for Kevin Poeung, and one can see why. HIs execution is assured and electrifying. The Russian Cossack dancers (Connor Jordan-Collins, Harris Beattie, and George Lang) also excite, but the it is the strength and agility of the Chinese dancers (Riku Ito and Matthew Koon) with their bouncing, clapping press ups which really have the audience impressed.
Minju Kang (Sugar Plum Fairy) creates beautiful lines and leg extensions, but she fails to breathe into her dancing, instead portraying a sense of stiffness and anxiety. The female corps de ballet also suffer with the same complaint. Luckily, Gillespie dances with assurance and, whilst every limb seems under perfect control, she never loses her youthful spring and easy grace.
The evening is made even more special by the excellent playing from Northern Ballet Sinfonia—Tchaikovsky's lush score is rendered with great emotion under the baton of Brett Morris.
At just under 2 hours long and jam-packed with charming costumes, this is a perfect family ballet and a beautiful, snow-sprinkled start to the festive season.