Review: The Nutcracker

The Vienna Festival Ballet were hosted by the Grand Opera House. The dance and movement caught the magic of the Christmas, but the lack of orchestra failed to charm

Composer: Nikolai Tchaikovsky
Venue: The Grand Opera House
Rating: 4 stars

The Grand Opera House hosted the Vienna Festival Ballet for one night only, performing the festive favourite, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The dance tells the story of Clara, played by Jodie McKnight, a young girl who receives a wooden nutcracker for Christmas.

The opening sequence depicts the entrance of the guests to Clara’s parents’ Christmas party. Each dancer animated their character through their entrance, which served as an interesting opening to the piece. Clara’s grandmother added a comic touch to the introduction which, although more slapstick than traditional ballet, appealed to the younger members of the audience; appropriate as the show was advertised as a performance for all the family. One guest, Dr Drosselmeyer, entertained the children and presented Clara with the gift of the nutcracker. However, the classical interpretation of Dr Drosselmeyer as mysterious and magical was not quite translated. His entrance lacked stage presence due to the melee of dancers surrounding him. The quality and skill of all the dancers was so great that, at times, the lead characters did not command the audience’s attention in the necessary way to render the story coherent.

After the prologue the show gained momentum as the magic began and Clara’s nutcracker doll came to life. The Nutcracker transformed into a prince and the stage erupted in a battle between the nutcrackers’ soldiers and the mouse king with his minion mice. The most striking feature of this particular sequence was the technique and skill maintained by the dancers’ in spite of their lavish costumes, such as the bulky mouse masks. Clara helps defeat the Mouse King and save the Nutcracker Prince, who then whisks her away to the land of snow in gratitude. The scene transition was extremely effective, as the backdrop of the family Christmas tree gave way to an enchanted snowy forest. The majority of the cast was involved in the Dance of the Snowflakes, a stand out scene of the show. The intricacy of the dresses and the attention to detail in choosing fabrics to complement the movement of the dancers added a beautiful finish to an astoundingly well choreographed scene.

Clara then goes to the Kingdom of Sweets and is greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is ruling the Kingdom, to wait for the Prince. Clara relays the story of how she enabled the Prince to vanquish the Mouse King. McKnight’s ability to translate the story through facial expressions and gestures alone was impressive and proved her prowess as an actress as well as a ballerina. In Clara’s honour, the Sugar Plum fairy holds a celebration of sweets around the world, which acted as a chance for the dancers to individually showcase their talent. All the performances were impressive, but the Arabian coffee sequence was very memorable due to the synchronicity of the three dancers involved. The fluidity of movement between the dancers was incredible, as each of their single movements visually became one.

A climatic group dance leading to the final stage position provided a stunning closing image. However, the swift transition from the decadent Kingdom of the sweets back to Clara’s family home slightly detracted from this scene and there the ballet ended. This ending felt rushed and left the audience anticipating something more.

The skill and agility of the young and small company was highly impressive, especially the sustained energy throughout. However, the lack of a live orchestra sadly did not do justice to the talent of the dancers, as Tchaikovsky’s emotive Nutcracker suite was stilted and flat being played through the speakers’ of the Opera House. The experience of a performance reliant almost wholly on movement and music alone was entrancing and a welcome change from the spoken word.

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