Sugar, spice and Nutcracker nice

The Nutcracker (Queensland Ballet)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

December 13 – 21

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“One of the things I love most about The Nutcracker is the way it brings families and generations together…” so reads Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director Li Cunxin’s program greeting, a sentiment that is immediately realised upon entry into the Lyric Theatre for experience of the classic ballet in two acts. Seeing “The Nutcracker” is a dearly-held Christmas ritual for countless families around the world and now I understand why.

The timeless story, based on ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” about a nutcracker come to life is dazzling one, whether audience members be return viewers or new to the enchanting experience. It is a whimsical, beautiful holiday classic brought to life by Queensland Ballet in a fabulous spectacle of a show.

The story is simple enough and easy-to-follow; guests are being greeted at a Christmas Eve party where the mysterious, magical Drosselmeier (a charismatic Jack Lister) delights with magic tricks and gives Clara (Lou Spichtig) a wooden Nutcracker. He later returns to take us into the next chapter as, at midnight, little Clara begins a magical journey into a wondrous world where her surroundings grow around her as toys come to life. Her nutcracker comes to life to soldier the toys against King Rat and his giant mice army before himself turning into a handsome prince, her house is transformed into the Land of Snow complete with delicate dancing snowflakes, and a beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy appears in reign over the Kingdom of Sweets in which entertainment comes from a range of international dances.

It really is a story of two halves. While Act One’s theatrical amusements entice children in their pantomime-ish sensibilities, Act Two’s repeated ballet sequences serve as a celebration of the art form in and of itself. Impressive choreographic detail (Ben Steveson choreographer) features throughout, adding depth to the flurried Christmas party opening scene in its presentation of the subtleties of generational and gender dynamics at such a gathering, and an ensemble approach allows for many moments of humour, such as in the animated antics of elderly characters at the party, most notably Grandmother (Serena Green) and Grandfather (D’Arcy Brazier). Even the more traditional second act affords opportunity for impressive attention to detail, even if only in background character interactions. And the motifs representative of each country are complemented by costumes within the Arab, Chinese and Russian dances, without compromising the integrity of traditional classic ballet.

Act Two also features the most familiar sections of Tchaikovsky’s iconic, melodic score, one of his most famous compositions. Its nimble sounds are flawlessly delivered by The Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, from the light and lively first theme through to the triumphant ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and the wintry and delicate ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. Also lush is the layered Lyric Theatre staging of Christmas red and green, before transformation into the dreamy Land of Snow, with a beauty that extends even into the stalls. And the special effects that see the house’s Christmas tree grow before our eyes, offer one of many magnificent moments.

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The serene snow scene allows for the creation of beautiful symmetrical patterns and formations on stage amidst falling snow, and accompanied by the flickering flutes and flurrying orchestral sounds of the Waltz, it makes for a magical move into interval. Costumes (Design by Desmond Heeley) and movements replicate the idea of unique snowflake swirls and groupings. The mastery of the dancer’s synchronisation is striking, not only when they are dressed as sparkling snowflakes in the first act, but also as flowers in Act Two’s whimsical ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

Much of the captivating spectacle of the show comes from its performances. As Dr Drosselmeyer, Jack Lister delivers magic tricks and precise illusions with well-executed grand and deliberate moments, while the dolls, particularly Patricio Reve as Soldier Doll, are impressive in their stiffly mechanical physicality and never-wandering eyes-straight-ahead stares, demanding audience attention. And crowd favourite David Power gives a hyper-energetic performance as Act Two’s whirling Russian dancer, leaping about the stage with impressive athleticism.

Spichtig again makes for a youthfully exuberant and innocent Clara, taking the audience along on her wonderful dream within a dream journey, while the Snow Queen and Snow Prince (Liam Kim and Liam Geck) display a captivating synergy, with clean movements. Lucy Green gives a technically-assured performance in the demanding Sugar Plum Fairy role, with impressive point work both in solo and pas de deux with the Prince (Victor Estevez). Indeed, her partnership with the Prince (Victor Estevez) is so breathtaking as to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience during their grand pas de deux, possibly the most beautiful dance of the production. Estevez makes for an elegant prince who showcases apparently effortless entrechats and strings of fouette turns with ease, and stately extensions beyond the ballerina frame, counterbalance and the pair’s triumphant lifts.

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Experience of Queensland Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a wonderful ‘tis the season treat. In the company’s hands it is easy to appreciate its place as one of the most beloved ballets of all time. Its music is glorious and gorgeously evocative, with a score that is full of unforgettable melodies, turned into a range of beautiful shapes and movements. It has become a tradition for the company to perform it every year during the festive season (this is their seventh successive Nutcracker year) and with its combination of gorgeous sets and costumes, stunning dance and Tchaikovsky’s music, it continues to serve as the perfect festive ballet to get you and yours in the holiday mood, accessible to all ages in its just-over-two-hours running time and warm-hearted combination of comedy, magic and beauty. Whether the show serves as an annual family outing or you are coming into it with knowledge only through pop culture references like in a holiday episode of “Will & Grace” (#guilty), “The Nutcracker” will fill you with the sugar, spice and all things nice of this time of year.

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