Reviewed by Jenny Seymour
The Nutcracker performed by the St Petersburg Classic Ballet and accompanied by the Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra. A classic magical tale of love and childhood wonder set at the annual Christmas ball.
What can I say about the Lyceum Theatre – it is a beautiful, classic theatre setting in which to watch a classic ballet. It is always so clean and beautifully presented.
I’ve seen The Nutcracker once before, performed by the Moscow City Ballet and I said the same for that production – It’s a shame that this production is on in January, as it is really a Christmas tale, but with Christmas still in our thoughts, it was a lovely evening out that made an otherwise drab January night spectacular.
We didn’t actually get a programme for this performance, as both me and my guest had seen The Nutcracker before and so were fully au fait with the story. However, if you haven’t seen the ballet before, I would recommend getting a programme and reading the synopsis before it begins so that you are aware of which dancer is which character and how the story unfolds.
I actually preferred this production under the direction of Marina Medvetskaya. It was a very traditional Russian performance, but told the story incredibly well and every member of the troupe was amazing – they made each pirouette, grand jete and lift seem effortless – spell-binding!
The one character I think it is always difficult to understand is that of the Godfather, Drosselmeyer who changes from throughout the first act from a general guest at the Christmas ball of Clara and Fritz’s parents, to the magician who makes this story come to life. However, in this production, this was more clear. Drosselmeyer plays with all of the children at the party and there is even a more traditional style Punch and Judy puppet show which enthrals the guests at the ball. He hypnotises each of the children in turn and plays games with them before giving each of the children their gifts.
Act 1 is where the main plot of the story takes place – Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather and a toymaker, arrives at her family’s annual Christmas party bringing toys for all the expectant children. The highlight of the first act is how the toys come alive. Each of the Nutcracker, doll and Arabian doll perform spectacular dance moves and then are transported off stage as they freeze back to wooden toys. The Nutcracker for me was the stand out performance here. He made his numerous splits in the air seem so effortless.
Fritz, Clara’s brother is jealous of her special gift, the Nutcracker and he tries to take the nutcracker and it breaks. Drosselmeyer fixes it, but after everyone else departs and goes up to bed, Clara stays downstairs with her Godfather and as she sleeps, the magician godfather conjures up more excitement: we see a mouse scurry across the floor, which gives the inspiration for the Mouse King and the Nutcracker and Mouse King come to life. The set is used very well to show Clara shrinking to the size of the mice and Nutcracker – the use of the Christmas Tree and lights growing until it takes over the whole of the backdrop really worked to give the impression that she was now the same size as the small creatures we had seen before.
A battle ensues between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King and his mice. This is another great scene: the mice costumes are incredibly life-like with piercing eyes and the mouse king’s battle with the Nutcracker and his soldiers is very well choreographed in every detail. You would think that the canon would be sufficient to see off the mouse king and his mice, but instead, Clara helps the Nutcracker to victory and the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince and she a beautiful princess.
Act 2 is more of an opportunity for the ballerinas to show off their superb and graceful skills. Fairies/dolls from all around the world come to life and perform to traditional ethnic music from their country of origin. Each of these performances was outstanding, but for me, the Persian princesses dance was just beautiful and mesmerising and the Chinese dancers were a great touch. The classic music that you will recognise appears in this Act (everyone’s a fruit and nutcake!?! and the dance of the sugar plum fairy) and some beautiful tutus and sparkles. Each type of fairy dances their own ballet to rapturous applause.
The Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra was also magnificent. The percussion that made each international dance so unique and the sound of the harp was stunning.
There were so many added touches in this production which were inspired – including the snow fall at the end of the first act (hindered only by the sound of the machine kicking in) and the pyrotechnics which you would not expect at the ballet.
One thing that is missing from this production is a second battle with the mouse king where he is finally defeated, and I missed seeing the spectacular Nutcraker perform again – he was truly magnificent. In previous productions, when Clara is returned to her living room under the Christmas tree there are simply bunches of flowers in place of the Nutcracker, Doll and Mouse King. Whereas here, the nutcracker doll is there and the dream is a distant memory.
My one criticism, as a novice, was that there was some netting at the sides of the stage which every now and again the dancers seemed to bump into which made it appear as though the Lyceum stage was a little too small as the ballet dancers were leaping across the stage. Also, it’s very hard in the ballet, as I would love to applaud the huge breathtaking lifts (ala Strictly Come Dancing), but you have to wait until the end of the Act or the end of each fairy’s dance.
I am absolutely thrilled that I got to see the St Petersburg Classic Ballet in action – beautiful and exquisite.
A beautiful performance not to be missed! The costumes and dancing were exquisite and the orchestra were superb. I would recommend a trip to see this amazing ballet company to bring some sparkle back into your life after Christmas!
Please note – the theatre only has an arrangement with the Q Park car park (you get 1 hour free parking) so bear this in mind when parking, as the car park next to the Crucible is quite expensive!
Tickets cost from £26 to £37 (booking fees may apply).
The Nutcracker is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 9-13 January 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000