Sunday, 4 January 2015

Like meeting an old friend after so many years

Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker Festival Theatre, Edinburgh 3 Jan 2015

I'd been looking forward to seeing Peter Darrell's version of The Nutcracker all year. It's dangerous to set your heart on something that much because high expectations are rarely satisfied. But from the moment Richard Horner raised his hands it was pure delight. Like meeting an old university friend half a century on.

And in a sense that was just what it was. I was introduced to Scottish Ballet by John Steer in 1969 (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). Darrell died in 1987 (Peter Darrell 9 March 2014) and I cannot recall when I last saw one of his ballets. Tonight I was reminded of Darrell's brilliance.  It was one of the reasons I fell in love with Scottish Ballet and why the company continues to occupy a special place in my affections.

Darrell's Nutcracker is of the traditional kind. Clara remains a child unlike the Eagling and Grigorovich versions (see The Nutcracker reference page and my reviews of Cracking! 14 Dec 2013 and Clara grows up- Grigorovitch's Nutcracker transmitted directly from Moscow 21 Dec 2014), She does not morph into the sugar plum. There are no gimmicky balloons, flying boats or expanding Christmas trees. Above all there has been no attempt to shift the location of the ballet from Hoffmann's original location to the banks of the Thames or even The Neva.

But there are some interesting features. In the prologue Drosselmeyer transformed an urchin into a handsome youth. Clara's troublesome little brother Fritz was given a toy rat for Christmas with which he tormented the women folk foretelling the battle between rodents and toy soldiers. The mice are children - girls as well as boys. The struggle was short and sweet and the nutcracker despatched the rat king without any help from Clara. One of the divertissements is a hornpipe reminiscent of Pineapple Poll danced to music that I cannot recall hearing before. Best of all were two great monkeys who parked themselves either side of Clara. They amused the crowd with antics that would not be encouraged in the drawing rooms of Morningside or Bearsden.

My seat was in the centre of the first row with a full view of the orchestra pit. I had never been so close to an orchestra before. I could see every movement of every player which was almost as fascinating as the ballet. I watched them in the "la la" vocals snow flake scene to see whether they had a choir as Festival once did. I thought I saw the woodwind players mouth the tune but I think Horner must have used a previous recording.

As advertised Erik Cavallari danced the nutcracker, Bethany Kingsley-Garner the sugar plum, Owen Thorne Drosselmeyer, Amy Pollock Clara and Remi Anderson as King Rat but Eve Mutso was the snow queen. All danced well but in many ways the biggest stars were the children from Scottish Ballet Associates and the Dance School of Scotland who showed considerable stage presence as well as good technique. Amy Pollok was a great Clara. The other big star was the designer Lez Brotherston who created a gorgeous kingdom of the sweets out of Christmas tree baubles and barricades for the mice out of outsize apple cores, boiled sweets and assorted cheeses.

The day I danced in public David Nixon stood next to me on the landing overlooking the foyer of Northern Ballet. The audience, which consisted largely of proud parents, siblings and friends of the dancers so was less than impartial, erupted in generous applause and emptied out of the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre chirping and chattering. "It's the best sound in the world" said Nixon. "They really enjoyed it". It was the same last night. The auditorium, which was packed to the gunwales, exploded with clapping and we stepped into Nicholson Street on a high. I've reviewed six productions of The Nutcracker since I started this blog and have enjoyed them all but this is the one I like best.

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