Madeleine Eastoe and Matthew Lawrence in The Nutcracker. Photo - Justin Smith
I’ll admit straight out that traditional story ballets are not my cup of tea. I much prefer to see the company sink their teeth into the 20th century ballets and modern works. In fact, I think The Australian Ballet often looks technically stronger and more excited in modern ballets. But The Nutcracker is always going to be popular (the Melbourne season is completely sold out) and the company is committed to presenting a mix of classical and contemporary work, so it’s no surprise that it ended up in this year’s programming.
Audiences cannot get enough of this Christmas ballet…even in the middle of September.
This version by Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redmon is new, relative to the history of The Nutcracker. It premiered in 1990 by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. It is lavish in set and costume, with a grand Christmas tree, falling snow scenes and no shortage of rich textiles and elaborate costumes. It emits all the glamour and sparkle that creates the kind of ballet magic that keeps the young and old coming back to ballet stages time and time again.
While, production-wise, the ballet is full-bodied, it’s technically uneven. The company has only recently finished their Destiny season and jumped straight into this sugary fairy land. Such extreme switching of styles is not only a lot of pressure, but also makes for a mixed bag of performances. The lead roles managed well and lived up to their parts. Madeleine Eastoe as Clara was all bright eyed wonder, light and girlish in her steps and confident with her repertoire. Lucinda Dunn’s Sugar Plum Fairy was crisp, technically exact and very well danced. She was ably supported by the lovely Robert Curran as The Prince.
Now that Steven Heathcote has retired as a principal dancer, he can take on character roles like Drosselmeyer, the magician. He seemed to relish the part and Marc Cassidy, as his assistant, was having just as much fun bounding around the Christmas party.
It’s more in the corps that the dancing unraveled. Ensemble sections were the weakest link in this production, especially the male quartet of winds, who rather than enhancing the Land of Snow, clomped, more than pranced, suffering some loud landings. (They were a heavy wind more than a light breeze.) Better were the performances from Olivia Bell as the Snow Fairy and her attendants (Jan Casson, Lana Jones, Miwako Kubota and Amber Scott). And of course, the little, young ballet dancers from the The Australian Ballet School were quite adorable in the Christmas Eve scene. Remi Wortmeyer as Jack-In-The-Box in slinky buoyant pants (costumes designed by John F Macfarlane) was a treat, as were some of the individual specialty dances in Act II.
Audiences will undoubtedly love this Nutcracker, as it has much to offer in its production values. If you miss it in Melbourne, it travels to Adelaide and Sydney later this year.
The Australian Ballet presents
Venue: the Arts Centre, State Theatre, Melbourne
Bookings: 1300 136 166 | ticketmaster.com.au
Further information: www.australianballet.com.au
Playing until Sept 29