The Nutcracker – Review – Leeds Grand

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The Nutcracker – Review

Leeds Grand Theatre, December 2012

by Barney Bardsley

What is there, I wonder, to dislike about The Nutcracker? Anything at all? It is, after all, the ultimate Christmas confection. Full of dancing toys, pretty young maidens and dashing, high kicking noblemen. It is a ballet that is both elegant and high-spirited. It has an orchestral score overloaded with lush, sophisticated, superbly crafted romanticism.

grand christmas ballet redWhen you have been struggling through rush hour traffic, or trudging head down under the leaden northern December skies, to buy that last Xmas present – the one that will tip you into certain overdraft and successive punitive bank penalty payments – what better place is there to end up, than the Grand Theatre, to watch Northern Ballet’s most popular and enduring festive show? It’s like wrapping yourself up in tinsel and baubles and hanging yourself from the highest branch of the Christmas tree. In other words: a perfect treat, in every single, conceivable way.

As ballets go, this is one that is guaranteed not to end in tears and tragedy. But rather, in a blaze of show-stopping set pieces by duetists and soloists. Each set on outdoing the other, and all of them reaching a high level of technical accomplishment, of sheer, exuberant artistry. The plot is barely existent. Heroine Clara receives a nutcracker toy for Christmas, which then explodes into life. It is a catalyst for all manner of magical manifestations. But the point of it all is not the story, after all. It is the glory of the dance itself.

“Embedded in the human psyche”

Northern Ballet, under David Nixon’s canny directorship, is a well-oiled company machine. It shines in its group choreographies, where the emphasis is on lightness, grace and elegance, rather than cod piece straining pyrotechnics. It showcases its young and emerging artists with great generosity. Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Clara is superbly fleet of foot and effortlessly supple. But it never lets you forget that the power of the ballet is in its corporate sense of musicality, discipline and style. The set is conventionally pretty. The costumes both colourful and traditional. This is a crowd-pleaser, not cutting edge innovation – and thank goodness for that.

nutcracker ballet northern leeds yorkshire castWe need our turkey and Xmas cake at this time of year. Marius Petipa’s 1890s ballet is the ultimate in comfort food. But The Nutcracker would be nothing at all without the tidal wave of music. The wonder, that is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. There is so much in this work that is embedded in the human psyche. It startles you at every turn with its familiarity, its mellifluous rush of harmonic sound. Tchaikovsky produced the work originally for ballet master Petipa at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

“Majestic arousing denouements”

Petipa was a notoriously strict task master. Tchaikovsky did not appreciate the Draconian directions of his choreographer. He dragged his heels to complete the piece. But the result is a masterpiece. Even if you think you do not know it – you do. It has been used in countless adverts, as musical mood enhancement for countless films and television shows. The combination of easy waltz rhythms and majestic arousing denouements is simply irresistible. You would get your money’s worth if you sat in the stalls, closed your eyes and just listen for two hours.

But don’t do that. The dancing is sheer magic, too. The Christmas season would be incomplete without some fake snow and some pretty costumes. When that combines with genuine artistry and accomplishment, then the stage is set for a very merry Christmas indeed.

images: Bill  Cooper

One Comment on "The Nutcracker – Review – Leeds Grand"

  1. On: Magazine (@on_magazine) December 21, 2012 at 3:48 PM · Reply

    NEW REVIEW: THE NUTCRACKER, Leeds Reviewed by Barney Bardsley … @GrandTheatreLS1 @northernballet #theatre #yorkshire

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