Nutcracker minus the menace
The Nutcracker, Royal New Zealand Ballet Opera House, October 31 Reviewed by Ann Hunt
Choreographer Val Caniparoli based this production on E T A Hoffmann’s The Story Of The Nutcracker And The Mouse King. It follows the traditional path with some twists.
The two-act ballet is set on Christmas Eve in the Stahlbaums’ home. Marie dreams that her Nutcracker doll turns into a handsome prince, defeats the fierce Mouse King and takes her on a magical journey through a snowy forest to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
This family ballet is very attractive to look at and well danced overall. In Wellington there is the considerable bonus of the beautiful playing of Tchaikovsky’s beloved score by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, sensitively conducted by Hamish McKeich, accompanied by the lilting women’s voices from the Orpheus Choir conducted by Brent Stewart.
But on other fronts, it is problematic. Caniparoli’s choreography is somewhat predictable and his scenario choices are at times odd. The set design (Michael Auer) is uneven and some casting is misaligned.
The character of Drosselmeier (Marie’s godfather) is portrayed here as a genial maker of clocks and automatons, possibly with some magical prowess. Gone is the more usual sinister, wizardlike figure, who teeters on the edge of kindness and cruelty.
Without that menace, the characterisation is a difficult one to bring off. Nicholas Schultz, though clear in his mime, lacks the edge that gives command. He is not helped by some fussy business in scene one, which makes for a ponderous beginning. Fortunately the pace quickens with the arrival of Marie, danced enchantingly by Katherine Minor. Nadia Yanowsky (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Paul Mathews (her Cavalier) are both strong dancers, but here are illsuited to their roles.
This said, there are many delightful moments: Scene three, in the Stahlbaum home on Christmas Eve; the battle of the Mice with their terrific masks and quirky costumes; the magical ride through the snow and the wonderful Waltz of the Pohutukawa Flowers (a lovely touch.)
Special mention must go to Abigail Boyle and Loughlan Prior, both as the Stahlbaums and as Arabian Coffee – an excellent partnership; Fabio Lo Giudice’s dashing Nutcracker; Sara Garbowski’s dazzling Dewdrop; the robust Russian Caviar trio; the scene-stealing children at the Stahlbaums, especially Shanwen Tan’s cheeky Fritz and all the Corps de Ballet.
The Nutcracker by the Royal New Zealand Ballet includes a wonderful Waltz of the Pohutukawa Flowers.