Left – Shane Wuerthner and Lisa Edwards. Cover – Shane Wuerthner and Vito Bernasconi. Photos – David Kelly
I saw my first ballet when I was seven years old – It was a marvellous performance of Swan Lake and I have never forgotten the experience; the beautiful costumes, the orchestra in the pit and the sheer awe inspiring flexibility that the dancers had. Two decades on and I find myself waiting in anticipation for another instalment of a traditional favourite, having waited to see The Nutcracker for more years than I can count. Every year I have watched as the announcement of the Christmas classic perfect for everyone is made here in Australia and even for the years I was living abroad but never having managed to get a ticket as it was almost always sold out immediately. Finally, my chance has come! How fitting it is that this time around I was afforded the opportunity to take the best possible date; my seven year old niece who had never experienced the ballet live.
A matinee performance with the halls filled with scores of excited little girls and boys all in their theatre finest. A sea of sparkly pink tutu dresses, Christmas cheer and giggles as the atmosphere overflowed with joy and anticipation. A wonderfully dressed woman sits beside the Christmas tree with a story book and explains to the children about the story of The Nutcracker.
Once inside the Playhouse theatre we wait with bated breath for what is to come. Every second seat is filled with extra cushions and tiny enthusiasts asking their respective date “When does it start?!” The lights dim and the orchestra begins – hiding underneath in the pit with my young counterpart craning her neck to see where the music is coming from, excited when she spots Conductor Andrew Mogrelia, bowing to the crowd.
The opening scene is of a snowy street abuzz with party goers, children on sleighs and couples headed to the Christmas party of the Stahlbaum's. There is something magical about the idea of a white Christmas; the images of warm inviting rooms with beautifully trimmed Christmas trees and the whole family laughing, sharing joy and cheer that makes you feel like a traditional Christmas is always the fondest part of your memory – even if you grew up in the heat of the Australian Summer. The set design for The Nutcracker really captures this and makes you recall every embedded Christmas expectation you ever had. The orchestra pair up perfectly with the dancers and portray the joy and whimsy of Christmas which creates a wonderful image that really transforms you into the spirit of the Nutcracker. Clara (Tamara Hanton) was graceful and classic with a beautiful and genuine smile that carried throughout the whole show. The costumes were stunning and colourful and the dancers filled the stage with scenes of mischievous plum pudding thieves, naughty grannies sneaking brandy and little boys with a cavalry of toy guns terrorising little girls with dolls. Dr. Drosselmeyer entertained the party with magical tricks, stories and wonderment as he plays 'puppet master' to living dolls of Nutcracker and Nurse dancing alongside Harlequin and Columbine. What a party! Clara falls asleep with her Nutcracker but awakes to a comical attack by the Rat King and his rodent rat-pack! The Nutcracker and his band of toy soldiers come to life and save the day as Clara is swept away into the magical Land of Snow. The Snow Queen and the snowflake dancers – stunningly sparkly and skilled are everything a child dreams a ballerina would be and has my counterpart in awe, as 'snow' falls from the roof into the crowd to the delight and amazement of the young and young at heart.
The second act is packed to the brim with action and the music of Tchaikovsky that I have grown up knowing as the music of The Nutcracker, even though I had never seen it. I turn to my little guest and she chimes “I know this song, but I didn't know it was from this!” She tells me this at least two more times before the show is out, clapping and bobbing along and it makes me feel content, knowing that even as the generations grow and the world changes some things never do. Truly something we can share with each other knowing that her grandmother and grandmother before her were enjoying these same songs and dances when they were seven.
The set of the Kingdom of Sweets was like a trip to candy-land with the walls adorned with puddings, trifles and jellies. A feast for the eyes alongside the array of awe inspiring dances from the passionate Spanish, the elegant Russians, the playful Chinese and the merry Mirlitons which made for a generous helping of the best of ballet. Mother Ginger was larger than life and very cheeky, causing quite a response from the crowd who were giggling and asking how anyone could possibly be that tall?! Credit goes to all the wonderful dancers, too many to single out as each had a different and wonderful role to play, creating an overwhelming feeling of the whimsical nature of this ballet. The final performance of the Pas de Deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Lisa Edwards) and the Nutcracker Prince (Shane Wuerthner) shows you what ballet is all about; grace, beauty and skill. As the show comes to a close she turns to me and says “I want to be the first to clap!” and she continues clapping until the final bow is long since done.
After two decades of waiting I can finally say that I have seen The Nutcracker, and was given the opportunity to pass on the 'first ballet baton' to a child who has the spark of the magic of theatre ignited in her, just like I had so many years ago.
Queensland Ballet presents
Conductor Andrew Mogrelia
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 11 December — 23 December 2015
Tickets: $95 – $50