The Lyric, QPAC,
It always begins to feel a lot more like Christmas when the Queensland Ballet’s season of The Nutcracker opens. Ben Stevenson’s gem of a production ticks all the traditional festive boxes – a first act setting of rich rustic browns, reds and greens, transformed by snow in bucket loads, and a sweet laden finale, all wrapped up in the glorious music of Tchaikovsky.
This enchanting visual spectacle is created by the settings of Thomas Boyd and costumes by the late Desmond Heeley assisted by Noelene Hill, with the whole enlivened by the magical lighting of David Walters. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra and voices of Birralee Choir under Music Director Nigel Gaynor added to this enchantment, with a glorious rendering of the familiar Tchaikovsky score.
Rich in its detail, with each character clearly defined, the opening act is charming in its attention to dramatic detail. Different casting brings fresh notes to the characterisations, however Rian Thompson again held the floor as the eccentric, doddery Grandfather. Together with Sophie Zoricic as the bossy Grandmother and Lina Kim, the deaf, dithering Aunty, they entertained with their acutely honed comedic skills.
Making her debut in the role, Chiara Gonzalez captured the innocent wonderment of Clara with a natural ease. The fight scene, where she knocks off the King Rat, (played with tongue very much in cheek by Jack Lister), by a blow to the head with a pointe shoe, still delights. The entire scene is pure pantomime, performed with wit and style.
The requisite magic was again delivered in the Land of Snow – by the corps, light and buoyant as snowflakes, with expressive use of the upper body and arms, but also by Yanela Piñera’s commanding performance as the Snow Queen. Her pas de deux with Victor Estévez as the Prince had a majestic grace, with broad sweeping movement and soaring lifts, performed impeccably in partnership with the luscious music.
The final act of the ballet (Kingdom of Sweets), being little more than a series of divertissements, moves at a cracking pace to keep the attention, and along with the powder blue setting of art nouveau inspired swirls and bright pink candy adornments, guarantees the audience a visual feast.
Stevenson’s take on the traditional divertissement fare is fresh without being radical, including a very slick Chinese twosome (Mali Comlikci and Luke Dimattina), who "fought" tooth and nail with sabre and pole in cleverly conceived fight choreography. Tonia Looker and Lou Spichtig, partnered by the very nimble David Power, also sparkled as the Mirlitons.
Liam Geck stood out for one of the best Russian Gopaks in years - flamboyant but cleanly executed, his was an immaculate performance. And in another scene-stealer, Neneka Yoshida mesmerised with her sultry interpretation of the Arabian as Joel Woellner conveyed her across the stage in a duet of sensuously acrobatic movement.
The Waltz of the Flowers, a swirling bouquet of pinks, apricots and green had immaculate lines with not a finger out of place. Overall the corps work was quite splendid. As the Lead Flower Couple Lucy Green showed her usual grace and elegance, and was very ably partnered by Iwamoto.
In her opening night debut Mia Heathcote was a rather restrained, quite regal Sugar Plum Fairy, although showing lovely control and technical finesse in the grand pas de deux with Estévez, which, despite some hesitancy in the preparation for the presage lifts, captured the sweeping majesty of the score. And as always, Estevez was a solid connecting presence throughout the ballet with his calm but princely stage demeanour and solid technique.
The Nutcracker, now firmly cemented in the pre-Christmas calendar of events for Queensland theatregoers, is always routinely delivered with refreshing vitality. It provides a strangely reassuring constancy in a world that is decidedly fluid, and is a wonderful start to the festive season.
– DENISE RICHARDSON
'The Nutcracker' continues until December 21.