David Nixon created a new production of the Nutcracker for NBT, which premiered in Manchester in October 2007.
This production is an absolute delight and a real treat for all the family. David has set the production in Regency England and the set and costumes are just devine! The Edwards family are preparing for a Christmas Party - there is Clara, her older sister Louise and brother Frederick as well as parents and grand parents. A late guest to the party is the benevolent but slighly mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer, who has travelled extensively. He brings life-size automatons to the party - some French dolls and a Chinese doll. He presents Clara wth a Nutcracker Doll.
When the party is over, Clara comes to retrieve the Nutcracker doll and is surrounded by mice. Drosselmeyer appears and calls on the Nutcracker to come and save her. During the battle, Clara saves the Nutcracker by throwing a Christmas parcel at the Mouse King, whom the Nutcracker is then able to beat.
The Nutcracker has turned into a young man and he leads Clara to a winter wonderland full of dancing snow flakes. Drosselmeyer appears with a sleigh and they ride of into the interval.
In Act 2 they arrive in a Kingdom dominated by a giant tea caddy. Clara and the Nutcracker are introduced to Sugar Plum and her Cavalier, who are her older sister and her suitor. We then have the usual divertisements and grand pas before Clara wakes up in her father's arms. She tries to tell him what has happened but he tells her she was dreaming and sends her back to bed. As she walks off stage Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker open the door and wave to her.
When I go to see an NBT performance, I always know I am in for a treat. They dance as a company and all the dancers give 110%. They all have strong stage personalities and breathe life into even the most minor of characters.
Over the past few weeks I have been able to see seven Nutcracker performances and they have all been excellent with two particularly standing out in my memory.
On a Saturday afternoon in Bath, I was most fortunate to see Christie Duncan and Ashley Dixon as Clara and the Nutcracker with Martha Leebolt and Martin Bell as Sugar Plum and her Cavalier. It was an afternoon of sheer magic as was evidenced by the oohs and aahs of the audience all around me. As with all the company these four dancers are excellent actors too. Ashely Dixon has a wonderful soft leap and is a lovely deft dancer, he wonderfully complements Christie Duncan's charming and vivacious performance. Martin Bell has a commanding stage presence and has become unmissable over the last couple of years. He is a perfect foil for Martha Leebolt. She is one of those dancers who is able to imbue even the tiniest gesture with meaning.
On Christmas Eve in Leeds we were treated to another magical performance by Pippa Moore and Chris Hinton-Lewis as Clara and the Nutcracker, with Keiko Amemori and Hiro Takhashi as Sugar Plum and her Cavalier. Pippa Moore is just sublime in the role of Clara - she is a convincing young girl who still plays with dolls but suddenly transmogrifies into a young lady on the brink of her first romance. On Wednesday afternoon, you could actually see this moment happening as she was gently set down from a lift - it was one of those spine tingling moments that you will never forget. Chris Hinton-Lewis is everything you would expect the Nutcracker Prince to be - a fighting man capable of rescuing a young girl in distress but also achingly romantic in the duets with Clara. Keiko Amemori must have one of the smiliest and expressive faces around and she just radiated joy as Sugar Plum. Hiro Takahashi is a virtuoso dancer who gave a splendid and exciting performance as her Cavalier.
In various performances Kenneth Tindall made the most of the Mouse King role - he teased and goaded the soldiers - waggling his bottom and whirling his tail at them in a performance that was very funny and enjoyable to watch. Darren Goldsmith dances the role of Drosselmeyer with gusto and huge enjoyment, he really was the puppet-master of the whole performance. Nathalie Leger is a hoot as the grandmother who is slightly out of control with festive spirit, chasing after the butler and generally causing winces from her family.
The variations in act 2 are all attractive but it is the Chinese Dance, with its overtones of breakdancing, and the Russian Dance that raise the most cheers - at least until Sugar Plum comes on!
This production is a real treat for all the family and I would highly recommend it.
NBT- Nutcracker - 2008 - performances
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