After enduring endless plays of Merry Xmas Everyone trundling round the shops you know the festive season is finally here when Northern Ballet stage their annual extravaganza.
This year The Nutcracker is back, and once again you have that feeling they’ve run into the props store and gone a bit mad to produce a lavish winter wonderland. David Nixon’s colourful and stylish costumes probably caused a national shortage of sequins and taffeta.
It’s a wonderfully bonkers fairy tale as a mysterious magician sends ingénue Clara off on a surreal journey where she survives a battle between giant mice and life size toy soldiers, before being magically transported to a wintery wonderland where meets her Nutcracker Prince. It’s all beautifully realised by designer Charles Cusick Smith who works his own magic on all the imposing sets.
To the audience’s delight Clara continues to a garden presided over by the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier as Arabian dancers, Russian Cossacks and French ballet dancers celebrate her endeavour and bravery, but is all a dream?
This is not Northern in breaking new artistic ground mode, but rather it’s a sumptuous thank you to their loyal audience, featuring some of the company’s best dancers who are clearly having the time of their lives in a ballet many will have danced back when they were juniors. Nixon is a busy man in this production, and his witty choreography as usual pushes the dancers allowing them to combine superb technique with emotional intelligence
First soloist Rachael Gillespie is perky as Clara capturing her spirit, and her duets with Harris Beattie as the Prince are full of the joys of first love and big lifts. Leading soloist Dominque Larose moves exquisitely during the iconic Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her duets with the equally experienced Jonathan Hanks are precise and powerful without losing any of the emotional depth.
The ensemble dancers all earn rounds of applause for their lively and athletic routines in the garden sequences, but when the flowers hover in line en pointe you are struck not only by their ability to convey emotion through movement, but the group’s incredible technique and strength. The junior ensemble also acquits themselves well, especially during the complex and lively party scene.
The other star of this show is Tchaikovsky’s peerless score played by Northern Ballet’s Sinfonia under Martin Georgiev. This was really timely as it’s crystal clear that without this gifted sinfonia playing live then these lavish shows would be severely diminished.
The Nutcracker may be over the top in the best possible sense, but the real thrill is watching world class performers dancing for the sheer, unalloyed joy of it.
The Nutcracker is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Sunday 10 December. To book www.leedsheritagetheatres.com or 0113 245 0014.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 29th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: