Even in sunny Perth, something feels so right about a white Christmas with all the trimmings. Quintessential holiday classic The Nutcracker played into this unfulfilled longing before the show had even started, with engineered snow drifting on charmed theatregoers.
West Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director Aurelien Scannella has made good on his promise to keep bringing this crowd-pleaser to Perth, as this is the fourth staging since he took on the role in 2013. As a first-timer familiar with both the story and the music, it was beguiling to see it come to life on stage and His Majesty’s Theatre, which opened in 1904 only 12 years after the first Nutcracker was staged, in St Petersburg was the ideal setting.
The audience was captivated from the moment the curtain opened on Uncle Drosselmeyer, performed by the long-limbed Juan Carlos Osma. Transported to a 19th century Regency ballroom on Christmas Eve, Osma was part magician, bringing marionette puppets to life and part uncle, teasing the children mercilessly. Carina Roberts reprised the part of Clara and shone with genuine enjoyment in the role, which is regrettably her swan song as she leaves West Australian Ballet for a career change at the end of this season.
Although there wasn’t much opportunity to showcase their technical skills, the talent of the child guest artists in Act I bodes well for the future of West Australian Ballet and Jayne Smeulders and Sandy Delasalle-Scannella’s fantastic choreography saw them included in the ballroom scene.
As Clara’s toy nutcracker came to life, the Christmas tree on set started magically looming above the stage and although the man-sized Rats that emerged were more comical than terrifying, their swaggering, swashbuckling rampage was entertaining. Act I closed with a stunning pas de deux from Chihiro Nomura as the feather-light Snow Queen and the corps de ballet were exceptional in the technically-difficult Waltz of the Snowflakes. With snow softly falling on them from above, it was an ethereal experience.
Credits for the set and costuming behind this adaptation of The Nutcracker go to British duo Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith, who have worked on a number of West Australian Ballet stagings and are heavyweights in their respective fields. The sets were clever and imaginative but the costumes were the real head-turner of the evening, with arrays of sumptuous designs including a troupe of shiny snowflakes complete with headpieces and a whirl of floral tutus with thousands of hand-painted petals. In a world where mass-produced fashion reigns, there’s something remarkable about 50,000 glitter dots placed by hand. The splendorous visual feast included fanciful candy cane ensembles and bauble-covered tutus.
Act II whisked us off to a magical kingdom of sweets and intrigue and a technicolour array of costumes for the Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabian dances. Ballet lovers were given another chance to see seasoned pair Nomura and Gakuro Matsui together, this time as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince, both having many years of experience as Principal Dancers for West Australian Ballet.
Of course, integral to The Nutcracker’s irresistible charm was Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, which was performed by the WA Philharmonic Orchestra and ably conducted by Jessica Gethin, who was one of the workhorses of the evening in the orchestra pit.
Waltz of the Flowers was impeccably timed to Tchaikovsky’s rousing tune, and if you listened very carefully, you could hear layers upon layers of pink petals gently rustling en masse. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy shows something can be well known without being tired, as Nomura danced like a beautiful wind-up ballerina to the twinkling sounds of the celesta and clarinet.
With so many standout performances, it’s hard to single out individuals but Izaak Westhead deserves a mention for his incredible execution of the Russian dance Trepak, in which he executed this frenetic piece flawlessly while seemingly relaxed. The very talented Polly Hilton was similarly mesmerising in the Spanish Chocolate dance.
Like both spending a cosy evening with a dear friend and attending a lavish party, The Nutcracker was pure delight. As someone who loves Christmas but restrains myself from kicking off the festivities until December 1, I broke my self-imposed rule for The Nutcracker and it was totally worth it. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
West Australian Ballet presents
Director Aurelien Scannella
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre | 827 Hay Street, Perth WA
Dates: 17 November – 10 December 2023
Tickets: $202 – $32
Bookings: (08) 6212 9291 | waballet.com.au