December 5th 6:30pm
‘The Nutcracker’ ballet is a story of magic, mayhem and hunky princes ready to lift you at a moment’s notice. It all starts as an innocent Christmas Party, where eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer presents Clara with a gift; a Nutcracker. Little does she know that this strange gift would transport her to a magical kingdom full of daring princes, sword fights, giant mice, dancing flowers and the beautiful Snow Queen. The Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince, Uncle Drosselmeyer’s cursed nephew, whom Clara quickly falls in love with. As her time in this magical kingdom comes to a close and Clara finds herself back in her own world and she laments that her prince is not with her. As the Ballet comes to an end, Clara spies a boy with a very familiar face outside her window.
ACT ONE: THOUGHTS, SETS, AND COSTUMES
The lavish sets were designed by Charles Cusick Smith and Phil R Daniels, who are both internationally renowned and who also worked on WA Ballet’s ‘Dracula’ earlier in the year. The Nutcracker is a mammoth of a Ballet to undertake in terms of set and costume design, but with the decision for WA Ballet to step away from the traditional iteration, it meant a lot of room for play; and play they did!
From the moment the audience steps into the already breathtaking His Majesty’s Theatre, they are greeted by an ornate false proscenium (taking the height of the stage down to a more reasonable size) and a beautifully painted drop of Drosselmeyer’s toy shop. Projection adds to the ambiance as snow gently falls around the shop, much like moments before where unknowing pedestrians were snowed on outside the theatre.
The center section of the house drop slide open to reveal the inside of Drosselmeyer’s shop and Drosselmeyer himself, which is a very nice touch as opposed to flying the whole backdrop out. Drosselmeyer is introduced in a brightly coloured suit, to which he adds a silk cape and a prop top hat that has an illuminated clock on the flat top. The entire performance has these little details throughout, and it’s so nice to see the use of custom props in a show as opposed to tutus galore.
Christian Luck as Drosselmeyer is perfect in this role and is the right amount of mature and playful. On the rare occasion we get to see him dance, his technique shines of clean lines and strength, and this was a nice compliment to his approach to the character.
The next setting is the exterior of a grand mansion; a flown backdrop and a set of stairs are more than enough to draw us in before lights fade up on the scene behind the drop. During this scene, we are introduced to some of the party-goers and their children as they each make their way across the stage and into the house. This scene for me went on a little longer than it should have, however, that was soon forgotten once the scene evolved.
Once the exterior had flown out, we were greeted to the interior set of columns and high vaulted ceiling, all framing the Christmas tree downstage center, and everything cast in a highly inviting bright amber glow.
The dancing here involves some partnering work but mainly takes a step back from traditional Ballet, instead preferring to depict the party a little more realistically as the adults join the children in their festivities. This scene was very light-hearted and was a nice introduction to the story, though a little slow.
We see a few more of those intricate props appear as Drosselmeyer dazzles the party goers with magic. With a flash of his hand, a cane appears in the air from nowhere, and later on, Drosselmeyer seemingly makes another attendee’s cane fly about (spoiler: a nice use of a ‘Flow Wand’ in a theatrical setting).
As we meet the Rat King, toy soldiers, and The Nutcracker, smaller trucks (set on wheels) are brought out to fill the space and easily transform the stage without changing locations.
The set for the Land of Snow was a nice change from the warm and inviting Mansion. The entire set glistens and sparkles while having a flat and cooling effect on the scenes. The backdrop was enhanced by using a lit cyc which was visible through snowflake cutouts. It gave the scene some depth and made it stand out a little more. The costumes wear absolutely gorgeous on the dancers and thankfully didn’t compromise their clean lines.
Candice as The Snow Queen was stunning, and every eye was on her as she easily moved about the space with strength and precision. Her footwork was impeccable and even though the choreography was quite intense for this role, she made it seem effortless and never held back. Normally I can’t stand when the whole show stops just so a soloist can break character, bow and receive applause; but Candice was an absolute exception. Both she and Julio Blanes brought the house down with a bravado one-handed presage lift, the kind of risky move that we rarely, if ever, see from WA Ballet.
The first act ends with the Dance of the Snowflakes and, of course, enough fake snow to break a prima’s ankle (like seriously, calm down). I do have to say and don’t hate me for this, but I would not have missed it if WA Ballet decided to cut this entire dance, or at least shorten it. What was probably only five minutes, seemed to take up half an hour as the audience was assaulted with repetitive steps, more canons than North Korea and enough Temps Levés to exhaust even the great Baryshnikov himself.
I found myself very confused by this point, having been quite unimpressed with the amount of dancing the corps were tasked with, and the level of steps that they were given. It seemed to me by the end of the first act that, although they had boldly decided to re-create a well-known Ballet with their own flavour, they were still playing it safe. If there’s one thing WA Ballet is known for, it’s certainly being safe.
ACT ONE: FINAl THOUGHTS
So as the curtain falls on Act One, I reflect on the dazzling sets and costumes, the strength of the character roles and soloists, and hope that they bring more to the table in Act Two. I’m perplexed that soloist and principal roles are being danced by corps members, though this is really nothing new within this company, and I certainly hope both Candice and Julio are able to move up in the company because they were exceptional.