Vienna Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review
The Nutcracker ballet captures so beautifully a spectacular children’s Christmas Eve fantasy that for many families it is a much-loved part of their annual traditions.
This year we didn’t have to travel far for a superb live performance. And as if by magic, no sooner had Clara woken from her adventures in the Kingdom of Sweets than we stepped out of the Festival Centre straight into the grand switch-on at Market Drayton’s Festival of Lights.
The popular ballet, from a folktale by Hoffmann and with music by Tchaikovsky, was brought to us by Vienna Festival Ballet.
The company was founded in 1980 by Austrian dancer and Artistic Director Peter Mallek. Based in the UK, the company typically tours smaller venues, taking with them stunningly designed portable sets and multiple rails of gorgeous costumes.
On the Festival Centre’s modest-sized stage with no orchestra pit, they performed magnificently.
With up to sixteen dancers together on the stage the choreography never felt constrained, and the centre’s high-quality sound system served them well.
Indeed, the intimate setting enhanced the clear storytelling: we felt the drama unfold right in front of us just as it was doing for young Clara.
As her mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer entertained the party guests, her friends encouraged Clara to dance but she was initially reluctant.
“I think she’s shy – maybe she doesn’t know if she can really dance,” my six-year-old granddaughter whispered. When Jodie McKnight in the lead role finally leapt into action with a lightness and grace that was utterly charming, my thrilled granddaughter bounced up and down in her seat with excitement.
Drosselmeyer’s midnight magic which transformed Clara’s wooden nutcracker doll into a handsome prince was deftly achieved; the prince’s battle with the huge mice and their king stirred the emotions; the ensemble dance of the ice maidens at the end of the first act was a highlight of the choreography.
Then in the second act we were in the Kingdom of the Sweets with a string of separate show pieces as small ensembles introduced themselves to Clara: the Spanish, Chinese and Arabian Dances, the Waltz of the Flowers, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and many more gave us a kaleidoscope of colourful costumes, different styles of dance, and many of Tchaikovsky’s best known melodies.
As the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier danced the final Grand Pas de Deux, Clara drifted off to sleep and left the Kingdom. The magician replaced the wooden nutcracker by her side, and when she woke from her dream she raised the toy to form a striking spot-lit tableau – the confection of the colourful dances clearing to a thoroughly satisfying resolution.
By John Hargreaves