The Lyric, QPAC, 8 December
Another Christmas and another Queensland Ballet season of The Nutcracker, which in spite of the naysayers, has proved to be a welcome reminder of the coming festive season for thousands of ballet loving Queenslanders. And to underline the point, this year the ballet was transplanted to the larger Lyric Theatre.
Ben Stevenson’s version of this timeless ballet is rich in dramatic detail, charming in its appeal to younger audience members, but also has an enchanting elegance that avoids the saccharine sweetness of some productions. Sets (Thomas Boyd) and costumes (Desmond Heely with Noelene Hill), are both brought to sparkling life by the transformative lighting design of David Walters, while the Queensland Symphony Orchestra underpins the whole with an insightful rendering of the glorious Tchaikovsky score.
While the ballet follows the traditional dramatic format, the usual palatial interior of the first act is replaced by a rustic farmhouse setting of rich browns, reds and greens. The detail in the dramatic construction of this opening scene never fails to engage. Each year we see changes to the dynamic of the family Christmas party, as different dancers take on the various roles, keeping the scene rich, scintillating, and alive with spontaneity.
Newly promoted soloist Mia Heathcote was a charming Clara, perfectly capturing the childlike innocence of the character and cleanly anchoring the ballet throughout.
Liam Geck was perfectly cast as Fritz, with neatly executed beats and turns, while also showing off his unmistakable flair for comedy.
Lina Kim and Jack Lister taking on the comic roles of the daffy Aunty and doddery Grandfather were both a delight, as was Victor Estévez as the mysterious Dr Drosselmeyer, conjuring magic for the awe-struck children with deft elegance.
The fight scene continues to amuse, with its witty confrontation between rats en pointe and robotically precise toy soldiers, led by Zhi Fang (Nutcracker) and Rian Thompson (King Rat). The scene’s transformation, opening out and up to reveal the Land of Snow’s frosty white and blue setting, was as magical as ever.
Yanela Piñera, an exquisitely musical dancer, and Alexander Idaszak, every inch the danseur noble, were perfectly coupled as the Snow Queen and Prince in a gorgeous fusion of broad sweeping movement, soaring lifts and expansive use of the upper body that makes this pas de deux so enthralling to watch.
The female corps was drilled to conforming perfection, twirling and leaping as Snowflakes, and in the second act showing luscious use of epaulement in the Waltz of the Flowers, led by Kim and Joel Woellner.
This act, the Kingdom of Sweets, with its powder blue, art nouveau inspired setting, is little more than an excuse for a series of divertissements, but each of them was delivered with a crisp, unflagging energy that kept the attention firmly focussed.
A tightly executed Spanish pas de six preceded Piñera and Vito Bernasconi in a sultry Arabian Dance. D’Arcy Brazier and David Power sword fought and karate chopped their way through the Chinese Dance, while Camilo Ramos won applause for his athletic and slick Russian Gopak. As the Mirlitons, Tamara Hanton and Lou Spichtig, ably partnered by Geck, all sparkled.
The highlight of this ballet is the final Grand Pas de Deux, and, with company artist Neneka Yoshida as an exquisite Sugar Plum Fairy, it did not disappoint. Her impeccable timing, killer balances, and dazzling footwork were thrilling. Together with Idaszak, who is a superb partner, with effortless ballon, they made the pas de deux a memorable climax to the ballet.
Queensland Ballet’s fifth opening night of The Nutcracker was as fresh as its first, with the ballet now undoubtedly cemented firmly in the calendars of Queensland’s theatre going public as the perfect precursor to the festive season.
– Denise Richardson
'The Nutcracker' closes 16 December.
Pictured top: Mia Heathcote, a charming Clara, with the mysterious Dr Drosselmeyer, danced by Victor Estévez. Photo: David Kelly.