Richard Trinder, Editor

The Nutcracker: Well Sparkly!

Northern Ballet dancers in <i>The Nutcracker</i>. Photo Emma Kauldhar
Northern Ballet dancers in The Nutcracker. Photo Emma Kauldhar
I couldn't help overhear the enthusiastic audience as they left Leeds Grand's opening night of Northern Ballet's The Nutcracker.

One phrase rang out above all the others; it was complimentary, succinct and very 'Leeds': It was simply "Well sparkly".

Northern Ballet's The Nutcracker is a hardy perennial, a seasonal treat that should be rolled out every December, like 'Morecambe and Wise' on the telly, or 'It's a Wonderful Life' at your local arthouse cinema. And sparkly it certainly is.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it's a dream sequence in which a young girl is given a nutcracker in the shape of a toy soldier and awakes to find the toy has become real - and of course, a handsome Prince. He brings his soldier-friends to the party, along with mice the size of children and a King Mouse with a casual, and ultimately fatal, disregard for his own safety.

With choreography by David Nixon, the score remains Tchaikovsky's wonderful composition for the original version of the ballet staged in 1892.

Remarkably, it was not an instant success, whereas now it is seen as something of a cash cow - ballet's panto equivalent - with American ballet companies in particular earning up to 40% of their annual revenues from their Christmas performances.

Rachael Gillespie as Clara with Ashley Dixon as the Nutcracker Prince. Photo Emma Kauldhar
Rachael Gillespie as Clara with Ashley Dixon as the Nutcracker Prince. Photo Emma Kauldhar

But let's not allow such commercial considerations to detract from the charm of the piece: it is a feast for the eyes; notably wonderful costumes, beautiful and oh-so colourful lighting effects and an orchestra at full tilt straining to fulfil every last intention of Mr Tchaikovsky, with the well known Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy famously featuring a celesta - a type of instrument invented just a few years before the score was written.

There's snow a-plenty, sequinned snowflakes, gorgeous sets, a grand house interior, a ball room and dancing mice. What more could you want for Christmas?

The Flowers in The Nutcracker. Photo Emma Kauldhar
The Flowers in The Nutcracker. Photo Emma Kauldhar

And as a seamless thread running through it all are the dancers of Northern Ballet.

Clara (Rachel Gillespie), the young girl with the nutcracker, smiles broadly and floats seemingly effortlessly though the dream conjured by her animated uncle Drosselmeyer (Mlindii Kulashe). Ashley Dixon makes a fine Nutcracker Prince and provides ample proof that ballet dancers, like deer, are only passingly acquainted with the laws of gravity.

The exquisite snowflake sequence is as challenging for the dancers as ever but given great lightness and grace by Nina Queiroz da Silva, Abigail Prudames, Helen Bogatch, Julie Nunès, Ommaira Kanga Perez, Sarah Chun, Mariana Rodrigues and Heather Lehan.

David Nixon's The Nutcraker is in many ways light and frivolous. He deliberately avoids the dark undertones that earlier re-choregraphed versions introduced. He keeps things simple, joyous and festive. As a consequence this piece has great charm and, thanks to a wonderful set and some fine costumiers, is, well, sparkly!

Highly recommended.