West Australian Ballet
His Majesty’s Theatre
It’s a warm November night in Perth and snowflakes are miraculously falling from the sky outside His Majesty’s Theatre. Before even entering the auditorium, the wintry magic of West Australian Ballet’s The Nutcracker has begun, much to the wonderment of opening night’s younger audience members.
Performed biennially since 2016 and now in its third season, Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella’s dream of creating a Perth family tradition of watching the festive ballet at Christmas time has certainly come true, with over 48,000 attendees since its premiere. This new version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Jayne Smeulders (a former principal dancer of the company), alongside WAB’s Sandy Delasalle and Scannella, retains its classical heritage with West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra’s live performance of Tchaikovsky’s iconic musical score and a close adherence to Petipa’s original 1892 libretto.
The story takes place on Christmas Eve in London 1830, at the Stahlbaum’s splendidly lavish Christmas Party. Toymaker Uncle Drosselmeyer is the wizardly mastermind behind young Clara’s adventures, gifting her with a Nutcracker doll that transforms at midnight into a handsome Prince who sweeps her away in a sleigh to the Land of Sweets.
In a technicolour cape and top hat adorned with a glowing Daliesque clockface, Christian Luck delivered an eccentric and loveable Uncle Drosselmeyer. Asja Petrovski enchantingly carried the narrative as a sweet and youthful Clara, her steps floating and lithe. In the role of her rambunctious brother Fritz, Oliver Edwardson connected with delightful humour and ease to the eight enthusiastic child artists in Act I (chosen for the Nutcracker season from open auditions).
Sailing in on a huge pirate ship, the bum-waggling, tail-whipping, cart-wheeling Rats were hilarious in their battle against the Soldiers, making this a crowd-favourite scene. As if carried in on a whirling blizzard, the Snowflakes who followed leapt through constellations of darting patterns across the stage, led by a warm and inviting Candice Adea as Snow Queen.
With lighting by Jon Buswell and breathtaking sets and costumes by UK based pair Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith, this production is a spectacular banquet of colourful design. A visual highlight is the Candy Castle, decorated in tall columns of twisted marshmallow ornate with cupcakes, blue jelly and gold buttercream frosting. Also eye-catching were the Mirliton costumes of bauble-encrusted tutus, striped candy cane tights and whipped-cream hair.
Adea once again sparkled as the Sugar Plum Fairy, with her impressive balances and infectious, bubbly smile. Dancing his Prince solo with a spellbinding, quiet elegance, Julio Blanes deftly saved himself from a near fall and remained an unwavering partner for the grand pas de deux. Filling the palace in their bouquet of rose-pink layered tutus, the corps de ballet was outstanding in its crisp precision of the Flowers waltz. At times, the choreography feels a little too safe and collected, with several missed opportunities to challenge such technically masterful dancers further.
Cultural misrepresentation is the Achilles’ Heel of this otherwise joyous ballet, particularly in the Act II divertissements of the oversexualised Arabian Coffee and slapstick Chinese Tea dances. As has been done by several major ballet companies around the world, reinterpretation of historical works keeps them relevant, improves their cultural authenticity or completely reinvents them away from Eurocentric traditions (take Donald Byrd’s 1996 The Harlem Nutcracker, for example). Petipa’s traditional choreography has attracted widespread controversy in recent years, and although it appears that some attempts have been made by the WA Ballet to tone down these problematic imperialist caricatures, there is still potential to create a refreshing version that an increasingly diverse Australian audience can relate to.
Nevertheless, West Australian Ballet’s The Nutcracker is a marvellously designed production, uplifting in its holiday spirit and charming it its imagination.
– ISABELLE LECLEZIO
Please note: the photos above are of a different cast to the one reviewed. All are by Bradbury Photography.