Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Ballet, Nutcracker, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Review

**** (4 stars)

the perfect winter treat

Such a simple thing, but why hasn’t it been done before?  Why should female dancers whose skin isn’t “Caucasian white” be expected to wear pale tights and pink ballet shoes?  It was only when I noticed that Rishan Benjamin’s tights and shoes matched her skin colour that I saw clearly how ‘white values’ permeate the whole ballet world.  Congratulations to Scottish Ballet for addressing this issue as well as removing some of the cultural stereotypes entrenched in the dances in act 2 of Nutcracker:  the Chinese dancers wore flat shoes, tunics and trousers, and did an elaborate and traditional fan dance; the ‘Russian’ dancers were fabulously acrobatic clowns; the ‘Arabian’ dancer’s veils gave the impression of an elaborate, glittering cloak [and were cleverly re-purposed into a seat on which she was carried off, and the ‘English’ dance had not a union flag in sight, but was simply an extraordinarily gymnastic hornpipe.

Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker is the perfect winter treat – sumptuous costumes and settings, glorious music, and an enthusiastically joyful celebration both of dance and the fact that for “the first time in forever” the dancers were accompanied by a live orchestra – Scottish Opera’s own orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard really enjoying being able to join in the celebration going on, on stage.

The story line is simple and gives huge scope for balletic showings-off.  Clara and Fritz’s parents are giving a Christmas party at which the mysterious Drosselmeyer presents Clara with a nutcracker in the shape of a handsome prince.  In the night Clara comes in search of her new favourite toy and finds herself surrounded by giant mice.  Drosselmeyer reappears and turns the nutcracker into a handsome prince, who leads a group of toy soldiers in battle against the mice and their Rat King leader.  Clara and the prince are rewarded with a magic journey to the land of snow and ice, where they meet the Snow Queen and her Snowflake fairies before journeying on in the Queen’s sleigh.  In Act 2, the sleigh has brought them to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who arranges an entertainment for her guests – a succession of characterful dances – before herself dancing with the Nutcracker Prince. The dancers gather to honour their guests: as they leave, Clara slowly falls asleep and the scene transforms to her parents’ house.  They find her asleep and carry her off to bed – was it all a dream, or more of Drosselmeyer’s magic?

What I love about this production is the prominent part given to the children – they don’t just appear at the party and then sit and watch the grownups dance: they not only run in and out of the party just as children do but get to dance by themselves and, on occasion, with the adults, before reappearing as the giant mice.  Clara also plays her part in the magical lands she visits, and rightly takes the star spot in the final act curtain call.  On Friday night she was played by Caoimhe Fisher who, along with all the other young dancers in this production, was being given an unparalleled opportunity to observe first-class dancers in action while also gaining stage experience.  

The grownups did pretty well, too!  I was delighted to recognise Starstruck’s Zeus, Evan Loudon, dancing a strong and agile Nutcracker Prince, lovingly attentive to Clara and superbly partnering Grace Horler’s charming Snow Queen and Marge Hendrick’s supremely confident Sugar Plum Fairy.  Madeleine Squire’s Drosselmeyer not only danced brilliantly but also performed a variety of magic tricks – not the usual accomplishments of a dancer, you would think…  Many of the dancers took more than one part: all were excellent – and there must have been some nightmare costume changes backstage!

If I were a true balletomane, I would have given this production five stars: as someone who enjoys but is not particularly knowledgeable, I have to confess to failing fully to appreciate the technical expertise of the dancers – but it was obvious from the applause that there were plenty of people saluting their excellence.  I did appreciate that many of the moves were very difficult but was more fascinated to observe the manoeuvres necessary for the Prince to support, turn, and lift his partners: huge thanks to Scottish Opera for giving me a seat in the front row of the dress circle so I could clearly see this!

Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker is a wonderfully entertaining evening.  I can’t think of a more joyful way to celebrate Christmas than with this gorgeous production which has something to enchant and entertain people of all ages – hurry and get your ticket now!

Scottish Ballet presents The Nutcracker, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs Until 31st December, For Tickets go tohttps://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-nutcracker-2021

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