A seasonal delight
Despite an inauspicious beginning when first produced in 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” has gone on to become the quintessential Christmas ballet. Some would argue it’s the quintessential ballet itself. Without question, any company worth its salt needs to engage with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. Thankfully Ballet Ireland has undertaken to do so in advance of the upcoming Christmas season. If their current production of “The Nutcracker” is not always as tight as it could have been, it still offers a marvelous night’s entertainment and delivers some beautifully executed moments of ballet.
Divided into two acts, “The Nutcracker” follows the youthful Clara who, on Christmas Eve, receives a gift of a nutcracker doll, which results in her fighting the King of the Rats before undertaking a wondrous adventure through the Land of Snow and The Kingdom of Sweets. In truth, after Act One “The Nutcracker” really has very little going on dramatically, with Act Two serving as a thinly veiled excuse to enjoy some of Tchaikovsky’s more popular pieces and to watch some beautiful pieces of ballet being executed. You either get it right or you get it wrong. Thankfully Ballet Ireland gets it right for the most part.
Directorially, director Anne Maher does an outstanding job. The constant groupings and movements flow throughout, each being exquisitely realized. There’s nothing ever still or lifeless on stage, or overwhelming the central action. Rather, under Maher’s astute direction, everything supports “The Nutcrackers” central thrust, with her family scene in Act One offering a master class in secondary movements supporting the central action. Nothing ever distracts, rather it all becomes composite and multi-layered in a ravishingly beautiful set by Andrew Clancy, Elizabeth Parsons and James Rowse, with sumptuous costumes by Werner Dittrich, that bring together the visual spectacle that is Ballet Ireland’s “The Nutcracker.”
Choreographically though, things are not always as sharp. Throughout, shape and symmetry are not always as clear or tight as they could have been, especially during group sequences where space and positioning are occasionally loose, often detracting visually. Synchronization is also problematic at times, and while generally dancers are technically on song, lines, lifts and extensions are not consistently as sharp as they could have been. A situation made more apparent by the fact that when it hit the sweet spot, “The Nutcracker” bordered on the sublime. No more so than in Ryoko Yagyu’s delightful performance as Clara, whose perfect lines and arabesques were exceptional, and who brought to each pas de deux a lightness and rigor that was captivating. Similarly Kesi Olley-Dorey who’s exquisitely executed Arabian sequence suggested even greater heights to which the “The Nutcracker” could have attained.
If not the most innovative or imaginative of interpretations, Ballet Ireland’s “The Nutcracker” is still a solid piece of work whose strengths far outweigh its areas for improvement. If it steers a steady course towards the safe, leaning always on the side of caution, what it sacrifices by way of excitement it makes up for with a captivating sense of ease. Luscious, luxurious and a sheer delight, “The Nutcracker” is a perfect Christmas treat. So go on. Buy a little present for yourself and herald in the Christmas spirit. And buy one for a friend. They'll thank you for it.
“The Nutcracker” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky performed by Ballet Ireland runs at The Gaiety Theatre until November 19th before going on tour nationally.