There are many Christmas traditions that antipodeans aspire to recreate which remind them of magical snowy Christmases of European climes. And what could fit the bill better than Queensland Ballet's 2018 production of The Nutcracker where all the delights of those traditions are amply recreated in their version of Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet. Judging by the sell-out performances of their sixth annual Christmas performance of The Nutcracker, Brisbane cannot get enough of this magical experience.
So what is it that attracts teams of people in Brisbane to The Nutcracker? For a start, unique to all ballet productions, is the vast number of children on stage attracting children and families alike to the captivating experience of dance. Also, like most families at Christmas time, the first act reflects the busyness, the joy, the family mayhem and the excited frenzy of children who are both naughty and nice. The first section has a pantomime quality which towards the end of Act 1 morphs into the classical ballet format we know and love and by Act 2, the production has the audience mesmerised and cheering to the quality of dance performances. Ben Stevenson has deliberately choreographed it this way to introduce children of all ages to ballet by keeping it less formal and full of humour in the first act and charming and light-hearted in the second act.
Like many fairytales, we are brought into the land of fantasy through the dreams of a child, Clara (Lou Spichtig). And what a fantasy world it is; lands of snow, sugar plums and sweets with a cast of colourful characters including toy soldier dolls, nasty but amusing rats en pointe, dancing snowflakes, an enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy (Lucy Green) and Snow Queen (Naneka Yosheda) and a plethora of vivacious character dancers. Best of all she reimagines her Nutcracker doll as a young man who dances with her, bravely defeats the King Rat and then is transformed into a handsome prince (Victor Estevez) who then travels with her in a magical sleigh on a lemonade river to the kingdom of sweets.
All this is formed into a visual confection that is beautifully danced, evocatively staged and enchantingly crafted from beginning to end. The stagecraft is superb. The following video very powerfully displays what a visual feast is provided by this performance and how much the behind the scenes work and creativity are provided by set designer Thomas Boyd, lighting director David Walters, as well as costumes by Desmond Heeley and Noelene Hill.
My particular favourite is the mesmerising cool blue scene of the Land of Snow which wonderfully enhances the beautiful lyrical dancing of the Snowflakes, Clara, Lou Spichtig, the Prince ,Victor Estevez and Snow Queen, Naneka Yosheda. Best of all for me was at the end of Act 1 the fall of real snowflakes on the audience; a delightful cool contrast to the heat and mugginess of Brisbane at this time of year.
In Act 2, while remaining accessible to new ballet audiences, there is a crescendo of virtuosic displays by dancers as they entertain the seated Clara in the Land of Sweets. The solos and pas de deux of Lucy Green and Victor Estevez as Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince were sublime and rapturously received by the audience. The comedic pantomime theme of act 1 continued with dancing mirlitons (a type of vegetable) and a huge pudding figure, Mother Ginger (Pol Andreas Thio) hamming it up with her ginger children prancing around her ample frame. Other dancing feats were displayed by Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances as well as by a solo Russian dancer. Powerful dance requires powerful music and, as always, this was sensitively rendered by Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nigel Gaynor with St Peters Lutheran College choir providing the background ethereal voices in the snow scene.
Many people I spoke to said that the enchantment of The Nutcracker does not grow old and that, if anything, this annual performance has created a slick well-honed and sophisticated production which, like Christmas, serves to reawaken our childlike wonder and delight.
Choreographer Ben Stevenson OBE Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Conductor Nigel Gaynor
Music performed by Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Set Designer Thomas Boyd
Costume Designer Desmond Heeley
Associate Costume Designer Noelene Hill
Lighting Designer David Walters