The festive season’s Christmas magic would hardly be complete without Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Due to popular demand, Cape Town City Ballet has once again brought back this wonderful production to the Artscape stage – a great introduction to dance for many young children and a happy reminder of childhood for older audience members.
The story opens with a magician, Dr. Drosselmeyer (Mervyn Williams) entertaining the on-stage children with displays of magic dolls, puppet shows and games. The child dancers show excellent role-play and their playfulness is captivating. Their anticipation, when Dr. Drosselmeyer started to wind up the first doll, is contagious, leading to audience members also craning forwards in their seats.
Sadly the ballerina doll performed by Mariette Opperman is rather a let down, mostly because of her costume. The tutu does not fit the Baroque era of the ballet, and looks out of place in the richly glamorous, gigantic and immensely detailed set. On the whole the magic dolls lack the required preciseness, turn out and technique seen in former years by previous Cape Town City Ballet members such as Manie Irving, Melanie Seeger and Russel Cummings, whose realistic doll portrayal is greatly missed in these scenes.
Young Clara, performed by Elizabeth Nienaber, gives a convincing performance as a sweet, good-mannered and innocent thirteen year old. Clara is attacked by rats but is saved by her gift from Dr Drosselmeyer – a nutcracker doll, who kills the Rat King. Dr Drosselmeyer then turns Clara into a Sugar Plum Fairy (Kirstel Jensen) and the Nutcracker into a handsome Prince (Trevor Schoonraad) and the two of them set off to theLandofSnow. The snowflakes, performed by the corps de ballet, are duly pretty but lack the softness and gentleness that is associated with snow, and there is some sloppy footwork that could be improved upon.
After passing through theLandofSnow, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince arrive at an enchanted island where they are greeted by eye-catching Spanish, Arab, Chinese, Russian and Mirliton performances. The Arab choreography – usually the least entertaining part of the second act – has in this production been changed from a group of female dancers to a lovely pas de deux. The Mirliton roles are always given to young and upcoming future stars (in this case Claire Barret, Gabrielle Botha, Nicole Lubbe and Haley Powell) who are not part of the Cape Town City Ballet company. All four young dancers delighted with their freshness and immaculately neat footwork.
The entertainment comes to an end and the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince take centre stage to begin their grand pas de deux. Trevor Schoonraad reveals himself to be the prince that every girl dreams of meeting, utterly deserving of his title of principal dancer. Not for a moment does he show anything less than effortless technique, high-bursting energy and true masculinity. His nutcracker is a real gentleman to his princess and a joy to watch. In her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy Kirsten Jensen shows her growth as a dancer, but yet has big shoes to fill. Nonetheless her sweet performance impresses and she will be watched closely as she continues to climb the ladder.
Adding to the grand scenery throughout, the lighting is brilliantly applied, giving the production its best stage appearance yet. It is the thread that gives this production of The Nutcracker its well-rounded look and feel. A Christmas treat for all ages.
The Nutcracker runs at Artscape Theatre until 23 December 2012.