Rachael Gillespie and Ashley Dixon – photo supplied by Theatre Royal
The Tchaikovsky classic ballet has been a perennial audience favourite since its first creation, although the very first production was panned by critics. But what do they know?
This version was choreographed by David Nixon in 2007 and sets the classic tale of toys coming to life in Regency England during a period when Orientalism was in vogue. This gives the designer Charles Cusick Smith an opportunity for lots of red and gold backdrops and props as we work through dances from around the world. Nixon’s version has all the colour and magic you might wish for, and uses up-to-date techniques to create a variety of settings for the dancers to occupy.
Northern Ballet is a company that favours talent over tradition, even though this is perhaps one of the most familiar works of ballet guaranteed to bring in the audiences. There will be few dancers who have not been in a Nutcracker production of some sort. This company draws talent from around the globe, but the charming lead role of Clara was performed tonight by Rachael Gillespie, all the way from the exotic metropolis of Swindon. She is immediately engaging and looks just right as the girl young enough to play with her Christmas toys, but starting to venture into the world of love and romance. Her brother Frederic is played by the startlingly capable Kevin Poeung who dazzles us with the Spanish dance re-choreographed to suit his skills. The magician toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer is given a vibrant life by Mlindi Kulashe from Cape Town in South Africa who gives us a new focus with an energetic and captivating performance as the Master of Ceremonies.
The Nutcracker is played with elegance and precision by Ashley Dixon, who works with Rachael with grace and ease in their many set piece dances together, with natural lifts made to look easy and very smooth. Delighting the audience the young stars from the Judith Fox Ballet School in Wymondham make frequent appearances as various mice and children at the party, although they are all home to bed before the curtain call at the end! The Corps de Ballet who appear variously as Snowflakes and Flowers are all capable dancers but at this early stage in this tour have not mastered the precise co-ordination and stage positioning that some audiences may expect, possibly reflecting the constraints of the Norwich Theatre Royal stage and the vertiginous drop onto the orchestra should you take a step too far. The principals cannot be faulted though, and the duo of Minju Kang as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Javier Torres as the Cavalier are breathtakingly good. The six sets of dances from around the world always give dancers a chance to show off their skills, and the Chinese dance By Riku Ito and Matthew Koon was particularly well received by the enthusiastic audience tonight. The little extras from Wymondham are also very charming and faultlessly rehearsed.
If you like traditional ballet presented with a stylish twist this is the show for you. The Tchaikovsky score is familiar but always sounds fresh, ensuring that any production of Nutcracker has the potential to delight, but this show adds superb dancing to an engaging and spectacular set to make an irresistible evening of entertainment. If you have friends and family who are unfamiliar with ballet and maybe never been, take them to this production and watch the smiles break out. They will be hooked!
© Julian Swainson 2018
Update for current tour details: https://seatplan.com/london/london-coliseum-theatre/
Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker, Wednesday November 21 to Saturday November 24, 2018. Eves 7.30pm, Mats Thur, Fri & Sat 2.30pm Tickets £10-£41.50. Discounts for Friends, Over 60s, Under 18s, Schools and Groups. Family tickets also available.
BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk