The Nutcracker. The Australian Ballet (2010)

There was a time when Christmas in Sydney without a production of The Nutcracker was unimaginable. The ballet attracts a festive audience, there is no doubt about it. So it is hardly a surprise that the Australian Ballet’s staging of Peter Wright’s Nutcracker as its final offering for the 2010 Sydney season was a total sell-out.

This Nutcracker does not strive too hard for psychological explanations or modernisations and the production has a clear and very welcome logic to it. Nothing happens in the transformation scene, when the Christmas tree grows, mice (rats I think in this production?) emerge and engage in a fight in which they are ultimately the losers, and Clara’s Christmas gift of a nutcracker doll turns into a handsome prince, which is not prefigured in some way in the party scene. The second act too has more logic than usual. Clara’s involvement with the dances is a welcome addition, as is her transformation—she is an aspiring dancer in this production—into the Sugar Plum Fairy. While the ballet still of course requires suspension of belief, there is a coherence that is unusual in a staging that does not diverge markedly from the traditional storyline.

The production was also pleasing from a technical point of view. And by this I mean that for once there were no loud bangs and crashes from backstage as scenery was moved in and out. I have winced more than once throughout the 2010 season at noises off stage that were never meant to be heard in the auditorium.

There was also some great dancing, and what a treat that is! A total standout was Madeleine Eastoe as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She was technically assured, her feet sparkled and there was such a delicious flow of movement in her torso as her spine stretched upwards through to her beautifully poised head. She gave such light and shade to the choreography with some unexpected changes of pace in her movements. She was every inch the ballerina—commanding but never overbearingly so. And what a magnificent, beautifully placed and perfectly executed diagonal of fouettés at the beginning of the coda!

As for her partner, Yosvani Ramos, he was sadly encumbered by a jacket in a startling shade of lolly pink—very unbecoming I thought. And to make matters worse the neckline seemed quite stiff and much too high for him. It made him look as though he had an incredibly short neck—not good when he is not the tallest of dancers in the first place. It quite detracted from some really nice dancing on his part.

Reiko Hombo danced the role of Clara and acquitted herself well showing absolute engagement with the role. Leanne Stojmenov as the Rose Fairy could scarcely put a foot wrong. The choreography here demands a dancer with a strong sense of classical order and in such situations Stojmenov always displays a natural ability and an exceptional level of expertise. Daniel Gaudiello had a small role in the first act as Drosselmeyer’s assistant. With his ability to realise a character, his powerful presence on stage and his technical prowess, especially when it comes to beaten steps and steps of elevation, Gaudiello turned this role into something exceptional and quite idiosyncratic. There were also fine performances from Andrew Killian as Drosselmeyer and Tzu-Chao Chou as the Jack-in-the-Box

There were moments when I found the costume and set design by John F. Macfarlane overbearing and fussy. Apart from wishing that the Prince’s pink jacket was not quite so inelegant, I also craved a little more subtlety in the set for Act II, which suffered in my opinion from a surfeit of colourful motifs including two different kinds of very large flowers, a stylised (anthropomorphised) sun and a bunch of swirly ribbons. But this Nutcracker is a Christmas treat to delight young and old alike and closed the Australian Ballet’s 2010 season on a high note.

Michelle Potter, 12 December 2010

3 thoughts on “The Nutcracker. The Australian Ballet (2010)

  1. For me the highlights during the Melbourne season of Nutcracker were the performances of the various Snow Fairies and Rose Fairies. As Michelle remarked re Rose Fairy, the choreography for these 2 parts really gives a good classical dancer a workout and Amber Scott was superb as Snow Fairy. And Lana Jones in Melbourne as Rose Fairy was quite thrilling. There are very many incidental pleasures in this production : the introduction of the male dancers [Winds]at the climax of the Snowflake Waltz moves the number into high gear for the ending ; the delightful interplay between Clara and her Dancing partner during the festivities of Act 1 allowed Jackson and Gaudiello ample opportunity to develop winning characters; the concise way the Act 2 reacap of the battle and the summary despatching of the Mouse King in a steel cage is managed.

    I agree with Michelle regarding the Prince’s costume. I did not see Ramos in this role but no one I did see excepting perhaps the guest David Hallberg looked at all comfortable in it.

    And while the settings are very grand and appropriate for Act 1, I have never felt that the Act 2 setting conveys the lightness and airiness I look for in this act. The dominating pillars and dour colour schemes don’t convey the feeling of being somewhere magical.

    I can’t say much about the various Sugar Plums I saw. No fault of theirs, but there appeared to be problems with the stage during the Melbourne run and there were various mishaps at each of the 5 performances I managed to see.

    It was sad to hear the news of Brecianini leaving the company. I thoroughly her dancing during the Melbourne season as both Clara and Rose Fairy.

  2. David Hallberg would look good in anything, even that jacket!

    I didn’t get the same impression of the Snowflake scene as Adrian but then I think I saw a less classical dancer as the Snow Fairy. I was also at two minds about the Winds. I agree that they added a new element and certainly whipped the scene along, but I heartily disliked those wigs. (I didn’t like them on the Rose Fairy’s consorts either).

    In fact the more I ruminate on the show the more I think that the design (both costumes and sets) got in the way of a truly satisfying show. And if the pillars in Act II dominated the stage space in Melbourne, imagine what they looked like on the smaller Sydney stage.

    But having been rather grumpy on many occasions this year about various aspects of the Australian Ballet’s performances, I have to say this ‘Nutcracker’ did leave me feeling that the company perhaps still has something to offer. I really liked that for once no-one (not even Colin Peasley as the Grandfather) descended into some kind of overdone comedy.

    I especially look forward to seeing what the new crop of principals will bring to the company (and us) in 2011.

  3. Oh yes, those wigs for the gents………hideous. And the white face make-up for the Winds was not too flash either.

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