FESTIVAL THEATRE, EDINBURGH
Two years after it revived its former director Ashley Page’s unconventional version of The Nutcracker (which relocates the famous story to the socially turbulent Weimar Republic), Scottish Ballet returns to the classic 1973 rendering of the piece by its founder Peter Darrell. The contrast between the two could hardly be greater.
With Darrell we are in a confident, late 19th-century Prussia of splendidly uniformed, heel-clicking officers. Hence, in his interpretation, little Marie Stahlbaum’s dreams are far less troubled than in Page’s more psychologically jagged adaptation.
Darrell sticks with the Alexandre Dumas narrative used by the ballet’s creators Petipa and Ivanov. He demotes the frightening King Rat to a mere bit part, elevating Marie’s magician uncle, Drosselmeyer, to a constant, mysterious-yet-beneficent presence.
The Nutcracker doll the magic maker gives his niece for Christmas is an unconventional one. It breaks nuts, not between its teeth, but between its legs. Which is appropriate, as it transforms in Marie’s imagination into the Nutcracker Prince, performed on opening night by Scottish Ballet’s ever-impressive principal dancer Erik Cavallari, who, I’m prepared to wager, can probably crack walnuts between his thighs.
The emphasis of artistic director Christopher Hampson’s faithful production is, as befits a yuletide ballet, strongly on visual spectacle and aesthetic beauty. As Marie’s dream takes us to the land of the Snow Queen, designer Lez Brotherston (whose work here is as wonderfully consistent as Darrell’s choreography itself) excels himself with a gorgeously simple snowscape framed as if by a paper snowflake fashioned by a benevolent giant.
In Act Two, the perfect whiteness gives way to the explosion of colour that is the realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Marie, accompanied by a pair of brilliantly masked, comically cheeky monkeys, watches the dancers of various nations in a room resplendent in thousands of Christmas baubles.
It is here that Tchaikovsky’s soaring music offers its best-loved, set piece dances, and that the choreography presents the great pas de deux for the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. On opening night, it was danced, by Cavallari and Sophie Martin, with a combination of subtlety, precision and verve that both raised the roof and epitomised a near flawless revival of an early classic of the Scottish Ballet repertoire.
At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Until January 3, then touring until February 14. For more information, visit: http://www.scottishballet.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 15, 2014
© Mark Brown