The Nutcracker @ The York Barbican Review

Christmas has come early in the form of The Russian State Ballet and Opera House‘s impeccable adaptation of The Nutcracker. Taking the classic tale of a girl’s journey through the Land of Sweets with her beloved nutcracker brought to life, The Russian State Ballet and Opera House breathe life and character into their performances unlike many other touring productions.

The Nutcracker

The company’s technical work is absolutely stunning, with each member of the ensemble showing incredible dedication to their every movement. Some lifts are admittedly a little weaker than later displays but this is purely due to the dancers warming into their work. Where any dancers waver in lifts is barely noticeable and resolved within the second, and overall it’s an amazingly technical performance to watch.

In terms of production value, the company has opted for a simplistic set with interchangeable backdrops to complement the scene changes. These basic set pieces work well against the sheer talent of the dancers, as their performances captivate the audience far more than any impressive set piece of scenery could. One addition is a snow machine during the dance of the Snowflakes. The visual effect is enjoyable, but the noise created by the machine unfortunately becomes very noticeable even against the brilliantly talented orchestra. Considering how the dancers capture the movements and delicacy of snowfall ably, the sound pollution actually pulls the audience from the world created by the performance. By removing this effect the overall performance would prove completely immersive for its audience.

What really sets this production aside from other companies is the Russian State Ballet’s excellently placed sense of humour. Each character at the Stahlbaum’s Christmas gathering has their individual movements and affectations, from the self-important strutting captain and his simpering wife and child, forced to shuffle along beside him, to the nature-inspired poet whose constant verses are boring his wife to tears. Clara and her brother Fritz mock the performances and spin their grandfather into confusion with all the vivacity of two close siblings, all without any dialogue. The dancers are excellent actors, and this double-threat of power brings The Nutcracker to life so effectively that each character could be a member of your own family Christmas party. The company also plays around with the acts somewhat, shortening the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance and introducing the Rat King into the second act (as well as his adorable cheese-carrying Prince).

The company needs no great set pieces, more elaborate outfits or additions to the storyline: instead the dancers embody the adventure and excitement of Clara’s dream sequences, with amazing characterisation and flawless technical skill. This production is bound to enchant fans both newcomers and those familiar with the timeless winter tale. 4/5

Review written by Louise Jones.

The Nutcracker was shown at the York Barbican Theatre on Friday 23rd October. For more information on the Russian State Ballet and Opera House, visit here…

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