Storytime Ballet: The Nutcracker

The Australian Ballet Storytime Ballet The Nutcracker - photo by Jeff BusbyContinuing its delightful series of fairy-tale ballets for children, which began last year with The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet has this year produced an even more appropriate ballet, The Nutcracker.

Designed to introduce children as young as three to the world of classical ballet, both ballets have been artfully scaled down to a running time of around 50 minutes, and presented with a narration which explains the story as the ballet progresses. Many grandmas and grandads also found this narration surprisingly informative. Included is just enough judicious audience participation to keep the young target audience thoroughly engaged, without interrupting the integrity of the ballet.

The experience commences right at the doors of the theatre, as dozens of excited young princes, princesses and ballerina’s arrive, and kit up with magic wands and jewelled tiaras from the merchandise shop. Some even manage to contain their excitement long enough to ooh and ah over the display of historical costumes worn by famous dancers in past Australian Ballet productions.

For the Storytime Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty the company used existing costumes and set-pieces from previous productions, but for The Nutcracker, brand new costumes, and an impressive setting, were designed by Krystal Giddings, who has used this production to try out some ideas she has for a full scale version of this work in 2018.

Down with the lights, and out with the wands, as the young audience is transported to a Christmas party at which Dr. Drosselmeyer (Sean McGrath) is entertaining some rather naughty kids, with some clever magic tricks.

Drosselmeyer addresses the audience directly, to thank them for being at the party and invites them to help him make magic by waving their wands when he says the magic word. He also explains the purpose of the Nutcracker doll which he presents to Clara (sweetly danced by Chantelle van der Hoek) who gets upset when one of the boys snatches the doll from her and breaks it. Not to worry, Drosselmeyer puts a bandage on the nutcracker doll, waves the magic wand, and it’s fixed.

When the party is over and all the guests leave, Clara falls asleep, then the nutcracker doll transforms into a handsome prince who invites Clara and Drosselmeyer to travel with him to a magical world where they are entertained by dancing sweets, and saved from some villainous rates by the prince and his toy soldiers.

What is so impressive about this production is how beautifully it is danced. David McAllister has retained the Marius Petipa choreography, but adapted it where necessary, omitting some of the longer, slower dances including the Pas de Deux, Waltz of the Flowers and Arabian Dance,  in favour of the more energetic numbers, to compress the ballet into one act.

An important aspect of the Storytime Ballet is the opportunity it offers for performance experience for the Australian Ballet’s young emerging dancers, so all the dancers work as an ensemble taking on different roles at different performances.

At this performance, Chantelle van der Hoek was quite enchanting as Clara. Lucien Xu was a dashing Nutcracker Prince. Saranja Crowe stood out with her eye-catching performance as the Spanish Dancer. Kelsey Stokes, costumed unusually in a lovely plum-coloured tutu, was every little girl’s fantasy, in a faultlessly executed performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s solo. The three Mirlitons in their striped stockings looked spectacular, as did the Harlequin and Columbine.

With every member of the cast dancing with accuracy and confidence and so totally engaged in their roles, the disappointment among the young capacity audience of budding young ballet dancers, at the realisation that this performance was about to end, when the Prince lifted Clara high above his head in the final ensemble number, was palpable.

Judging from the excited babble and energetic pirouettes in the foyer after the performance it was obvious that this performance had certainly whetted the appetite of its target audience, and wild horses won’t keep them away when the next production of Storytime Ballet come to town.

Storytime Ballet: The Nutcracker
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 22 January 2017
Season: 21 – 24 January 2017

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Image: Storytime Ballet: The Nutcracker – photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Bill Stephens OAM