The Nutcracker – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
Clare Jenkins, January 2024
Just when you thought you’d eaten your last Christmas Quality Street, along come a few more boxes of them – a sparkling, swirling feast of Strawberry Delights, Green Triangles, Toffee Pennies and Caramel Swirls.
That’s how it feels when the curtain rises on International Classic Ballet Theatre’s production of Tchaikovsky’s fairytale ballet and the dancers appear in a spangle of crinolined dresses and velvet frock coats.
The set is just as traditional: painted backdrops, gilded wooden drapes and a Christmas tree that grows to the ceiling to give the effect that Clara, our young heroine, is shrinking to the size of the grey mice prancing around her. Then there’s a smoke machine in overdrive and a light snowfall that also sprinkles the audience seated in the front rows.
Artistic director Marina Medvetskaya’s production may have more than its fair share of wonky wigs, rictus smiles (or no smiles) and tiptoeing rodents with gleaming red eyes. But the ballet itself is a masterclass in pirouettes, pas de deux, arabesques and entrechats. As such, it’s a perfect introduction to classical ballet, here performed by a newish company (formed just a year or so ago) featuring dancers from Armenia, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia and the UK.
The 18-strong ensemble gracefully glide and athletically grand jeté across the stage to the comfortingly familiar score played by the (uncredited) orchestra in the pit. Prima ballerina Arisa Hashimoto is effortlessly charming and poised as Clara, the little girl given a Nutcracker doll for Christmas by her magician godfather Drosselmeier (Yelaman Tiyshtykbay). In E.T.A. Hoffman’s classic German tale, adapted by Alexandre Dumas, she falls asleep and dreams that the doll becomes a Prince who first fights the Mouse King and then whisks her off to the Magical Forest and the Land of Sweets.
For the audience, this production, premiered a year ago, is undemanding: there are no radical re-interpretations, no creatively challenging reworkings. There’s the odd bit of clumsy choreography, the occasional fumble – but it’s such a sweet ballet, who’s complaining?
The various set-piece dances in Act Three add variety to the prettily pastel: Zhanna Tevosyan’s liquidly sensual Eastern dance, Ryoka Yamamoto and Gai Suehiro’s playful Chinese cameo, Alexis Cooper and Jake Walker’s Russian Cossack foot-stomper. They finish, of course, with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Hashimoto’s pink tutu-clad fairy teamed perfectly with Assylbek Ismail’s consistently assured Nutcracker Prince before being lifted, seemingly weightless, by members of the corps de ballet. It’s like one of those quaint childhood musical boxes with a tiny prima ballerina twirling round. A perfect confection for a winter evening – with snow (and dancing snowflakes) on the inside, if not yet on the outside.
The Nutcracker is at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre until January 13th