The Nutcracker – The Royal New Zealand Ballet
31 October 2018, Opera House, Wellington
Reviewed by Mona Williams
The traditional festive, magical, wistful, exuberant, pre-adolescent imagination of noble romance, exotic lands and delectable sweets coalesced in the world of The Nutcracker, and held my balletomane granddaughter in thrall. I remembered my ecstatic reaction, viewing my first live ballet in the Christmas season of 1967. It was Lew Christensen’s The Nutcracker, at the San Francisco Opera House.
Val Caniparoli, Lew Christensen’s protégé, choreographed this Nutcracker, endowing it with his inimitable stamp. A lively confection, it possessed charm; the Chinese dance highlighted by a Chinese lion, the carved dolls’ humorous robotic movements; and the inventive, canny, corps of a dozen Pohutukawa flowers, dancing in long white tutus overlaid with red sepals, invited a Kiwi identification. A winning character dancer was the young brother, Shanwen Tan, full of naughty vitality yet retaining his dancer’s discipline. Sara Garbowski’s Dewdrop was an assured presentation. Abigail Boyle displayed a commanding, refined, sensuous allure in the Arabian Coffee dance which contrasted with her earlier role as matronly Frau Stahlbaum; while the Russian ‘soldiers’ rose to the challenge in their virtuoso Russian Caviar dance. Loughlan Prior, partnering Abigail Boyle in both of their distinctly different roles, showcased Caniparoli’s choreographic versatility. Prior’s smoldering, upper body sinuous masculinity in the Arabian pas de deux contrasted well with the Spanish Chocolate’s Alexandre Ferreira’s raked ‘matador’s’ back in the pas de quatre. The delicate French Pastilles’ pas de trois was also outstandingly executed by Madeleine Graham, Marie Varlet and Leonora Voigtlander.
The classicism of the snowflakes’ traditional Russian style, and later, the Pohutukawa flowers’ lyricism, reinforced The Nutcracker’s classical origin. Caniparoli’s use of the corps of children in the celebratory scene, the fight scenes and in the Kingdom of Sweets, were visually enticing because of their innocent enthusiasm. Presented against consistently excellent sets, with superb lighting, a serenely floating day bed, attractive costuming, and the NZ Symphony Orchestra’s sympathetic pace which accommodated the dancers; these won over my granddaughter, a fledgling musician. I wished for rather more demanding choreography overall, especially in lifts, for the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nadia Yanowsky and her Cavalier Paul Mathews, whose polished performance could have been elevated a notch. All the same, we departed very pleased.