Review: The Nutcracker

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Johnny Bovang and Elizabeth Nienaber in The Nutcracker - Photo by Pat Bromilow-Downing
Photo credit: Pat Bromilow-Downing

There are few better ways to celebrate the festive season than watching a performance of Cape Town City Ballet’s The Nutcracker. With Tchaikovsky’s magical music and E.T.A. Hoffman’s colourful characters, it’s a true holiday treat. The company is joined by young dancers from around Cape Town to bring this iconic story to life, infusing the production with contagiously playful energy.

As the prologue ends, the curtain opens to reveal a stately room with luxurious decorations and a twinkling tree; the perfect setting for the first act’s merry Christmas party. With encouragement from the eccentric Drosselmeyer, the games begin and Clara (Elizabeth Nienaber) leads the children on stage in an energetic dance. Nienaber embodies the awe and excitement of youth at Christmas time with a delightfully expressive performance and her unfailingly clean, precise technique. She radiates joy and engages easily with the other children, who all step up to her level of performance and dance with great professionalism. The party is a whirlwind of games, magic and puppet shows, along with some impressive doll solos. The highlight of the scene is Ivan Boonzaaier’s short but comical portrayal of the grandfather: from his posture and stuttering steps to his subtle facial expressions, Boonzaaier’s characterisation causes eruptions of laughter from audience members young and old.

As the party ends, Clara falls asleep holding her Nutcracker toy and we are transported into her dreams for a magical journey beginning with a battle between the Nutcracker and the Rat King. The men playing the rats show off their strength and virtuosity as they leap around the stage, while those portraying toy soldiers demonstrate their military precision and timing as they march into battle. At the end of the battle, Drosselmeyer returns to transform Clara and the toy Nutcracker into the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince, and guest artist Kirstel Jensen takes over from Nienaber. Jensen is beautiful to watch and is wonderfully partnered by Thomas Thorne. She has a natural charisma and charm that draws audiences into this enchanted land, and her extensions and feet bring joy to the hearts of ballet critics. Thorne’s solos are always a pleasure to watch; you feel the security in his landings and turns, and elation in the height of his leaps. It’s a joy to watch these two dance together as they seamlessly move in and out of partner work with grace and elegance.

Rosamund Ford and Jesse Milligan gave great performances in the ‘Arabian Dance’, performing the slow, sinuous duet with an intensity and sensuality that keeps it from becoming languid. Abigail de Waal, Natalie King and Xola Putye also excite the audience with their ferocious stamping and spinning as the Russian dancers. The ladies of the corps de ballet dance fantastically in the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and especially the ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’. Their movements are crisp, their lines sharp and they are so in sync that their legs stay at the same angle even as they swirl around in their promenades. The only things that let this spellbinding scene down in this particular performance were stumbles from the Snow Queen and Prince, and leading Snowflakes losing their timing.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful production with stunning sets and costumes that help bring these exuberant characters to life. The Nutcracker is a must-see family show full of magic, joy, humour and great dancing; everything that makes the holidays special.

Shirley-Ann Bezuidenhout

The Nutcracker is on at the Artscape Theatre Centre until 24 December 2015.

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