Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Nutcracker as it really should be danced - No Gimmicks but with Love and Joy

Chelmsford Ballet Company The Nutcracker Chelmsford Civic Theatre
19 March 2014

I had very high expectations of The Chelmsford Ballet Company's performance of The Nutcracker. As I noted in The Chelmsford Ballet 16 Dec 2013
"An amateur company with patrons like Christopher Marney, choreographer of the wonderful War Letters for Ballet Black, and the great ballerina, Doreen Wells, invites attention. On the home page of their website the Chelmsford Ballet Company describes itself as "an amateur company who set professional standards for all [its] work, involving professionals in [its] productions, courses, and other teaching and workshop opportunities." According to the history page it traces its history back to 1947 which makes it older than English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Northern Ballet."
I had fresh cause to admire the company when I learned that Cara O'Shea, the wonderful teacher I had seen at Northern Ballet's Open Day and who also taught me a few days later, had danced for the Company as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. None of that had quite prepared me for yesterday which was one of the happiest evenings that I have ever spent at the ballet.

There were so many reasons why I enjoyed this performance. First, it kept faithfully to the story that we all know and love.  No gimmicks like balloon trips or regal rodents clinging to the gondola into Act II. Set firmly in Mitteleuropa rather than the banks of the Thames, the Christmas party taking place at the Stahlbaums and not the Edwards and Clara remained a little girl throughout the show and did not morph into Sugar Plum. Secondly, this was a production in which every age group and both genders were well represented. I had expected to see only teenagers (mainly girls) and while there were certainly plenty of them the cast also included prominent members of Chelmsford society. Thirdly. they had a wonderful audience who knew when and where to clap. How they yelled when they saw something they liked. And how they roared at the end of the performance. Chelmsford knows that it has something special in its city and it supports the company magnificently. The theatre was packed. 

As I mentioned in "Chelmsford Ballet's Nutcracker - Not Long Now!" 24 Feb 2014 the company had engaged Richard Bermange to dance the Cavalier, Emma Lister Sugar Plum and Michael Budd, the Mouse King as guest artists.  They all danced well but I particularly admired Lister for her solo in the final pas de deux. With the possible exception of the overture the music for that dance is the best known part of the score and this ballet has more memorable tunes than just about any other. She executed it impressively. Bermange partnered Lister well and Budd was a Putin of a mouse king if not a Stalin. Really, really scary.

Amelia Wallis, who danced Clara, was delightful. Not only can she dance well but she can also act. Clara is on stage for almost the whole ballet which must require considerable stamina and concentration. Wallis did not flag or drop her smile for a second.  Clearly she has talent and I am sure we shall all see more of her. Also talented is Morgan Wren who danced Fritz, Clara's pesky brother, the Nutcracker and the Chinese divertissement. He has presence. Other dancers who caught my eye were Jessica Wilson who danced one of the Harlequins, the Spanish dance and the dance of the flowers, Jasmine Bailey, the other Harlequin, the principal snowflake and leader of the dance of the flowers and Megan MacKatchie, also in the Spanish dance.  Andrew Potter was a magnificent Drosselmeyer, Marion Pettet. Frau Stahlbaum, ever the gracious host - I loved the way she reprimanded a naughty boy tousling his hair - Stan Rose the sporting grandfather and Elizabeth Baker his wife.

But there was far more than just great dancing.  Ingenious sets and costumes, clever lighting and a last but not least a beautifully designed and printed illustrated programme. Altogether it was a triumph for the artistic director Annette Potter.

The show continues until the 22 March and there will be a video of Saturday's performance of which I shall certainly buy a copy. I came down from Yorkshire to see this show and I would say it was well worth the effort. We Yorkshire folk are quite sparing in our praise - particularly of Southerners. If we say something is good you can be sure it is bloody marvellous. If you live anywhere in East Anglia, Greater London or the home counties do yourselves a favour and see this show.

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