One of the most eagerly anticipated dance events each year, for young dance enthusiasts of a certain age, is the annual visit of the Australian Ballet’s Storytime Ballets. Storytime Ballets are designed to introduce children as young as three to the world of classical ballet.
This year the chosen ballet is The Nutcracker, which has been artfully scaled down to a running time of around 50 minutes, and presented without interval, with a narration which explains the story as the ballet progresses.
Charmingly delivered by the magician, Drosselmeyer (Sean McGrath), who, at the very beginning grabs the attention of the young audience with some simple conjuring tricks, this narration proved surprisingly informative, including just enough judicious audience participation to keep the young target audience thoroughly engaged, without interrupting the integrity of the ballet.
The experience commences in the foyer of the theatre as dozens of excited young princes, princesses and ballerinas arrive and kit up with magic wands and jewelled tiaras from the merchandise shop. For those without costumes, there was a dress-up stall, and even photography stand for the inevitable selfie. For the initiated, there’s a mini-museum containing a display of historical costumes and headdresses worn by famous dancers in past Australian Ballet productions.
The ballet is performed on an uncluttered stage in front of lovely, atmospheric images projected on to a huge video screen. The pretty costumes were designed by Krystal Giddings, and the ballet is impressively danced by a young cast of eleven recent Australian Ballet School graduates, who alternate soloist roles at different performances to maximise the performance experience for each dancer.
At this performance, Clara was given a charming interpretation by Lilly Maskery, who could hardly have wished for a more handsome and courtly Prince than former Canberra dancer, Alain Juelg. Benjamin Garret drew gasps from the littles as the menacing Rat King, but also proved a charming Harlequin to Chantelle van der Hoek’s delightful Columbine, while Belle Urwin in her pretty plum-coloured tutu was a deliciously dainty Sugar Plum Fairy.
The three Mirlitons, with their colourful striped stockings and candy canes, the two tempestuous Spanish dancers, the acrobatic Russian dancer, the colourful Chinese dragon, and the battle of the mice with its Les Miserables moment, all captivated the young audience, who, almost as one, breathed an audible sigh of disappointment when they realised the ballet was drawing to a close.
Judging from the excited chatter as the audience emerged back into the real world; one suspects doting grandmas and grandads will have little trouble persuading their young charges to accompany them to the next chapter of Storytime Ballet.
Storytime Ballet – The Nutcraker
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 16 January 2020
For more information, visit: www.australianballet.com.au for details.
Image: Storytime Ballet – The Nutcracker – photo by Jeff Busby
Review: Bill Stephens OAM