An invitation to get into the Christmas spirit early, the West Australian Ballet’s (WAB) final show for 2016 triumphantly kick-starts the festive season.
Better suited to adults than to children, the ballet is set in London 1830 against a backdrop of foggy skylines dominated by the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. On Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum’s house, siblings Clara (Carina Roberts) and Fritz (Andrè Santos) are delighted when their uncle, the magical toymaker Drosselmeyer (Matthew Lehmann), unexpectedly attends their family’s celebrations.
Beneath the boughs of a magnificent Christmas tree, Drosselmeyer doles out gifts to the children – including a Nutcracker doll to Clara which comes to life at the stroke of midnight (performed by Gakuro Matsui). Soon after, her uncle whisks her and the Nutcracker away to Candy Castle in the Land of Sweets, where the Nutcracker is revealed as the Sugar Plum Prince. He and his partner, the Sugar Plum Fairy (Chihiro Nomura), have the denizens of their kingdom regale Clara – still in her night gown – with a series of colourful performances before she returns home with Drosselmeyer.
A classical ballet, the dancers of WAB flutter out in snowflake skirts and flower tutus, masking their immense exertions with pearly smiles. Principal Dancer Matthew Lehmann’s performance as Uncle Drosselmeyer, costumed magnificently, goes beyond dance, as he embodies the wild-eyed magician and doting uncle gleefully. Once again he stars, a captivating dancer capable of synchronising with the female leads and deftly performing lifts.
Andrè Santos is hilarious as the churlish little boy Fritz – employing his divine set of emotive eyebrows, his performance is positively petulant. Technically impressive, Gakuro Matsui as The Nutcracker/Sugar Plum Prince and Chihiro Nomura as the Sugar Plum Fairy are at the centre in Act II. Their chemistry was subtle but electric, and their duets and solos were excellent.
Spanning an hour and fifty minutes, with a prologue and two acts, the piece is loaded with instantly recognisable, iconic music from the brilliant 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, performed live by the WA Philharmonic Orchestra under the conduction of Myron Romanul.
UK set and costume designer duo Charles Cusick Smith and Phil R. Daniels (whose oeuvre extends internationally to ballet, opera, musical and drama productions) have crafted a lavish, candy-coloured vision that casts an enchanting spell. Constructing Smith and Daniels’ designs from scratch, WAB’s Wardrobe Department has created 147 magnificent hand sewn costumes and 200 individual hair pieces, wigs and hats, along with so much more. Indeed, the imagination and detail injected into the designs makes them the show’s standout feature.
With a triumvirate of choreographers, the steps were designed by Aurèlien Scannella (WAB’s Belgian-born Artistic Director), Jayne Smeulders (a highly decorated performer who retired as one of WAB’s Principal Dancers this year to focus on teaching and choreography), and Sandy Delasalle (WAB’s French Ballet Mistress).
The culmination of two years of work and costing two million dollars, WAB’s The Nutcracker is an immense labour of love. Understood as an investment, the company has already outlined its intention for the production to stay in its repertoire as it builds a Christmas ballet tradition.
Review by Samuel J. Cox
Images by Sergey Pevnev
‘The Nutcracker’ runs 18 November – 11 December at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets available here.