• Guest Artist Qi Huan as the Prince. Photo: David Kelly.
    Guest Artist Qi Huan as the Prince. Photo: David Kelly.
  • Zach Fang and Ling Ping. Photo: David Kelly.
    Zach Fang and Ling Ping. Photo: David Kelly.
  • Teri Crilly and Nutcracker Prince. Photo: David Kelly.
    Teri Crilly and Nutcracker Prince. Photo: David Kelly.

Queensland Ballet: The Nutcracker -
Playhouse, QPAC, 11 December -

In Brisbane, as we swelter in 30 degree plus heat, Queensland Ballet’s (QB) The Nutcracker, which celebrates a Christmas far removed from the reality of ours, is playing, rather perversely perhaps, to sold out houses. In its third year as QB’s Christmas offering, the ballet seems poised to become the tradition artistic director Li Cunxin had predicted.

After a couple of false notes from the wind section, (how wonderful now, to always have live music), the overture took off, the curtain rose, and the audience was transported through a cold wintery night to the Christmas festivities in the Stahlbaum’s farmhouse.

This opening scene is packed with dramatic action, which, while cheerfully drawing the attention every which way, is richly detailed, and was delivered by all the dancers (including the children) with commitment and conviction. It is a sparkling start to the ballet.

Although casting in this performance was similar to previous years, characterisations have become even more finely drawn. Again Teri Crilly captured the child-like innocence of Clara, but with a charm that was more understated.

Guest Artists Paul Boyd, a very addled Grandfather, with Janette Mulligan, the deaf, dithery Auntie, drew more laughter with their cavorting and tippling antics, while Hao Bin, as the mercurial Dr Drosselmeyer, conjured magic for the awe-struck children (and audience) with dramatic elegance.

In the battle of the giant mice the tongue-lolling King Rat, (Vito Bernasconi) accompanied by his delightfully terrifying gang of mice, en pointe, fight the sword-wielding Nutcracker (principal dancer Shane Wuerthner) and his troop of robotic look-alike soldiers with a sharply attuned wit.

The enchantment continues as the Prince (guest artist Qi Huan) guides Clara through the Land of Snow. Principal dancer, Yanela Piñera was a regal Snow Queen. Her pas de deux with Huan, of sweeping lifts and expansive use of the upper body, was beautifully phrased, while Huan made a noble and chivalrous partner.

The strength of the company lies in its corps, which is now stylistically united and drilled to perfection. The Snowflakes this year leaped and twirled as one, creating a visually exquisite end to the first act.

The second act of the Kingdom of the Sweets with its pale blue art-deco inspired set of decorative whorls, moves with speed through the various divertissements, beginning with a very tightly executed Spanish pas de six.

The Arabian Dancers, Lisa Edwards and Alexander Idaszak, drew sustained applause for their lithe and supple interpretation that oozed sensuality. Zach Fang and Yu Lingpeng were convincing sword wielding Chinese Dancers, while Liam Geck made a most entertaining Mother Ginger; drawing gales of laughter as he cavorted on top of his oversized crinoline. Bernasconi again drew well-earned applause for the athleticism of his Russian Gopak.

The Waltz of the Flowers dancers embraced the luscious music, showing beautiful ports de bras and use of the upper body. Eleanor Freeman, partnered by Wuerthner, has further refined her style, and together they made a joyous lead couple.

Principal dancer Laura Hidalgo made a light, delicate Sugar Plum Fairy, and together with Huan, (who is out of retirement for this season), she explored every musical nuance of the glorious grand pas de deux. While her ports de bras were always framed with a delicate care, some inconsistencies of footwork were noted in her solo.

Viewing Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker three seasons on, it is possible to more easily measure the growth of the company. While the ballet is what may be termed a "puff-piece", this year the Queensland Ballet dancers delivered it with a more mature and sophisticated charm and technical acumen, making the ballet engaging from beginning to end.


Photos: David Kelly. Click on thumbnails for captions.


The Nutcracker runs until 23 November.

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