The Australian Ballet: Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker review

Cherished on every ballet world stage, The Nutcracker can be enjoyed at any time of year, especially as presented in The Australian Ballet’s decadently sumptuous production.

With as lavish a staging as can be seen in any genre of performing arts in Australia, John F Macfarlane’s design for this Peter Wright production is as much a work of art as the dance or as Tchaikovsky’s hit-parade score. Best of all, the choreography, by Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redman, provides a company-wide showcase, with a multitude of featured roles and small ensembles.

Entering its thirteenth year in The Australian Ballet repertoire, and almost 29 years after its Birmingham Royal Ballet world premiere, Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker remains as fresh and glossy as when last seen in Melbourne five years ago. While magician Drosselmeyer’s party tricks may be on the simple side, nothing beats the magical stage transitions, from dark red Edwardian family home to oversized Christmas tree to mystical world of wind and snow. Act two sees a riotous collage of symbols hanging overhead, while outsized abstract floral images slowly scroll into place on the rear wall.

Jon Buswell’s lighting design (based on David Finn’s original design) is a key aspect of the visual wizardry, with moments of dark as important as light. In Clara’s winter wonderland, the beautiful stage picture seems filled to infinity with snowy white.

Peter Wright’s influence is seen throughout the gorgeously detailed costumes, the stage often teeming with distinctive characters, all present with clarion purpose.

Setting some brisk tempi, maestro Nicolette Fraillon draws skilfully nimble playing from Orchestra Victoria. Crisp storytelling serves to highlight the expressive nature of Tchaikovsky’s score, heard in excellent form at this performance.

Yuumi Yamada fills Clara with girlish wonder, nicely conveying with a sincere sense of naïveté. Yamada floats about the stage, looking gracious even when Clara has nowhere else to watch the divertissements but to sit on the floor.

Superstar Ako Kondo brings her pristine technique and absolutely delightful presence to the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Brett Chynoweth is capable of more interesting character work than the Prince allows, but the chance to watch his floating leaps and pillowy landings was a pure joy. Chynoweth works elegantly with Yamada, and then really takes flight in the grand pas de deux with Kondo. The Nutcracker may ostensibly be a children’s ballet, but Kondo and Chynoweth elevate the work to a supreme standard, thrilling the audience along the way.

Featured highlights are numerous, but to name a few: Dana Stephenson is dancing dynamite as the Rose Fairy, maintaining a radiant smile all the way; Jade Wood exudes intriguing, charismatic presence as living doll Columbine; Francois-Eloi Lavignac lights up the stage as the vibrant Magician’s assistant. Of the act two divertissements, the slow sensuality of the Arabian Dance stands out, as hypnotically performed by Natasha Kusen (also charming as Clara’s mother), Callum Linnane, Nathan Brook and Brodie James.

Miss Eight, aka Niece in Chair, commended the child performers from the Christmas party, and was disappointed that they had gone home to bed rather than being present for the curtain call. Drosselmeyer’s transformation of Clara to the Sugar Plum Fairy appeared to involve actual magic, until Miss Eight saw both Yamada and Kondo on stage together in the bows.

The ideal first ballet, Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is both the perfect family treat and a pleasure for adults. The magic will only multiply as the months approach Christmas.

The Nutcracker plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 28 September 2019.

The Nutcracker plays at Adelaide Festival Centre 8–12 October 2019.

The Nutcracker plays at Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House 30 November – 18 December 2019.

Read the Melbourne casting for The Nutcracker.

Photos: Jeff Busby

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