Friday, 14 December 2018

Northern Ballet's "The Nutcracker" - All My Favourite Artists in the Same Show

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Northern Ballet  The Nutcracker  12 Dec 2019 19:00 Leeds Grand Theatre

Northern Ballet does a very good version of The Nutcracker.  I have seen a lot of productions of that ballet in my time and, in my humble opinion, it is one of the best. Having said that, I can think of no good reason why David Nixon has to change the names of the Stahlbaum family to Edwards and Northern Ballet really must do something about the backdrop which is supposed to be a wall and bookcase but flaps like a flag if anyone gets too close to it. But I can forgive all that because everything else is good.

Wednesday's performance was particularly good because nearly all my favourite artists from the company were in the show.  They did not all have major roles.  Javier Torres who was my dancer of the year for 2017 was Mr Stahlbaum (or Edwards if you must) and the exquisite Hannah Bateman was Clara's grandmother.  Rachael Gillespie, of whom I can never see enough, was Clara. Abigail Prudames, another beautiful dancer, was Sugar Plum.  Gavin McCaig was in the ballet as the butler and also the Arabian divertissement.  My favourite of the evening was Mlundi Kulashe who played a blinder as Drosselmeyer.  He danced it with energy and verve in a way that I have never seen  it danced before,  Everybody in the show (and that includes the musicians) performed brilliantly.

In some versions of The Nutcracker, Clara (or Marie) is a child who does not have much to do beyond bopping the mouse king with a shoe or some other blunt instrument.  In Nixon's version, she handbags him Thatcher style.  She also performs some duets in the snow scene and again in the second act with the Nutcracker (Ashley Dixon) and joins in some of the divertissements. Rachael is a joy to watch and Nixon displayed her like a precious jewel.

The climax of the ballet is, of course,  the Sugar Plum's pas de deux with her cavalier. On Wednesday he was Joseph Taylor.  The high point for audiences is the celesta solo just as Legnani's 32 fouettés are in Swan Lake or the rose adagio in The Sleeping Beauty.  Everything else may be perfect but if something goes wrong with one of those pieces the rest is forgotten. Abigail Prudames thus bore the weight of the performance in that solo and she carried it off beautifully.  Taylor is a powerful dancer and he was thrilling to watch.

Nixon does a particularly good fight scene between mice and toy soldiers.  Riku Ito was a particularly gallant regnant rodent expiring stoically after Rachael's handbagging.  Nixon has a cavalry in his production which is one up on Sir Peter Wright and Peter Darrell's productions.

In the second act, Itu performed the Spanish dance as a solo. That was different.   It is usually danced by an ensemble though Northern Ballet School also presented it as a solo in Christmas at the Dancehouse.   I liked the Arabian dancers (Matthew Topliss, Natalia Kerner and Gavin McCaig), the Chinese (Kevin Poeung and Harris Beattie) and the Russians (Conner Jordan-Collins, Matthew Morrell and Andrew Tomlinson); The Russian dance was a big role for those three young dancers two oi whim are still apprentices,.

There are also a lot of roles for children in The Nutcracker as guests at the Stahlbaums' party, mice and soldiers.  Two of my teachers had daughters in the show though I am not sure whether either was dancing on Wednesday night.  All the kids performed well that night and were a credit to their ballet mistress who in previous years has been Cara O'Shea.

The show will run at the Grand until Sunday and I strongly recommend it.

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