Christmas story you can love, even in January

24 Jan 12 - Cape Times - SHEILA CHISHOLM

BASED on Alexandre Dumas père’s rewriting of ETA Hoffmann’s tale The Nutcracker and The King of Mice, The Nutcracker ballet has been popular Christmas fare since first presented in St Petersburg in 1892.

Productions differ but the story’s core remains unchanged. Its about a young girl, in this instance called Marie (Anastasia Ignatyeva), who, at her Christmas party, is presented with a nutcracker doll by mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer (Vadim Yarkov).

Marie dreams her love changes her toy into a handsome Prince (Bogdan Berezenko) who takes her to the Land of Snowflakes and the Kingdom of Sweets before she awakens back home.

The Nutcracker’s first-act is notoriously difficult to choreograph. Too often it results in prettily costumed children running around, for a great number of bars, doing very little, while Marie and her brother spar over her nutcracker.

Choreographer Tony Mercer succeeded where many fail. Aided by Tim A Duncan’s well-recorded arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s delightful music, Mercer’s slight alterations to the story line brought some cohesion into this flimsy tale.

His Nutcracker Doll, petit Marina Davydova, seemed boneless turning herself “inside out” in eye boggling robotic acrobatic sequences. Mercer then wove characters from act one into characters in the Kingdom of Sweets and introduced all manner of breathtaking pyrotechnics, tricks and stunts to advance momentum.

A Christmas gift of woolly black and white cats came “alive” as Yarkov and Olga Sharutenko to help soldiers defeat the horrid aggressive mice led by their King and Queen (Jurijs Salmanovs and Iuliia Odintova). Marie’s parents Doctor Pavlov (Volodymyr Khodakivskyy) and Mrs Pavlova (ex-Capetonian Fiona Kirk) in their Arabian Dance gave a breathtaking aerial display to rival any Cirque du Soleil act.

Marie’s sister (Olena Pyatash) and brother (Andrey Penkin) became the Sugar Plum Fairy and Sugar Plum Fairy’s Paige. And Berezenko, who shyly courted Marie at her party, dazzled as the handsome Nutcracker Prince.

In a country more au fait with cricket, rugby and soccer’s terminology, skating terms such as axel jumps, besti squats, camel spins, death spirals, the “I” and “Y” spin positions are probably unknown.

However, not being conversant with them doesn’t prevent appreciation of awesome skills from this team of 24 champion skaters. Yet Nutcracker on Ice isn’t simply a sizzling technical exhibition in a variety of Elena Predvodeteleva’s colourful costumes against a background of Eamon D’Arcy’s winter-wonderland sets effectively lit by Richard Rhys Thomas.

Over and above skaters’s ability to constantly draw spontaneous gasps and applause, everyone had a personae to portray. Yarkov turned himself from Drosselmeyer the magician into a fighting black alley cat. Sharutenko, whom we met two years ago as Cinderella, showed she has lost nothing of her grace in her roles as Drosselmeyer’s assistant and catty White Cat.

Penkin, seen previously in Swan Lake and Cinderella, amused as Marie’s cheeky brother, but curbed his humour when gallantly partnering Pyatash’s Sugar Plum Fairy. And Oleg Tazetdinov and Yulia Ashcheulova, first acting as party guests, made a merry “toe stepping” pair in the Chinese Dance.

Disappointing was the shortness of the beautiful Land of Snowflakes scene as well as the unexciting choreography and singularly unflattering all-in-one green costumes for Waltz of the Flowers.

These apart, in an evening blazoned by high calibre skating, the highlight was the variations and grande pas de deux by Ignatyeva and Berezenko.

These stunned the audience into silence not just for their technical proficiency but for the sheer beauty of their movement… action pictures forever stamped on the memory.

The Nutcracker is essentially a Christmas story therefore it is out of place in January. But this world premiere of Nutcracker on Ice is so visually compelling it doesn’t seem to matter. Do see.

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