I was desperate to see a ballet this Christmas, but with shows being cancelled across London due to covid it didn’t seem like I’d get there. So, when I heard The Nutcracker was being performed by St Petersburg Classic Ballet at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, I jumped at the chance to go. And I wasn’t the only one; the theatre was packed out, possibly with other people like me who are not ready to let go of Christmas yet.
The Nutcracker is undeniably a Christmas classic. Based on the German fairytale, Clara is given a wooden Nutcracker as a Christmas present by the mysterious magician Dr. Drosselmeyer (Clara’s godfather) at her family’s Christmas party. When she goes to sleep that night, she has a magical dream. She is attacked by giant mice who are led by the Mouse King, then saved by the brave Nutcracker and life-size toy soldiers. The Nutcracker then turns into a handsome prince. He and Clara travel through a snowy kingdom to the Kingdom of Sweets, where a celebration is held in Clara’s honour by the Sugar Plum Fairy. After the party she falls asleep, and when she wakes up she is back at home, with her Nutcracker doll under the tree.
This performance by the St Petersburg Classic Ballet did not disappoint. The prima ballerina Romanova Natalia’s portrayal of Clara was beautiful. The grace with which she dances makes it look effortless, and yet the discipline it takes to dance as she does undoubtedly took years of hard work. However, it is not just her dancing that she should be credited for. Romanova Natalia successfully conveys Clara’s emotions – her sadness, fear and then joy – through her facial expressions, which brings the audience on Clara’s journey with her.
Mergaliyev Yassaui gave an equally elegant but energetic performance as The Nutcracker Prince. He makes a convincing hero, coming to Clara’s aid against the Mouse King, and a charming prince, dancing with her through the kingdoms and pulling off some fantastic lifts.
Being a relatively small company, many of the dancers played multiple roles and moved between them flawlessly. Of particular note was Denys Simon for the way he leapt around the stage during his Russian dance, gaining enthusiastic applause from the audience. Akana Muramatu gave a beautiful performance in her roles, as one part of the Chinese dance and during the wider celebration in Clara’s honour. The Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy gave the whole ensemble a chance to shine, and these dances truly were the highlights of the show.
Tchaikovsky’s score is brought to life by the Hungarian Sinfonietta orchestra, conducted by Guntar Bernats. They didn’t miss a note; their delivery was faultless from beginning to end and the music soared throughout.
Aside from the performers, a special mention must be given to the costume designer(s), who unfortunately are not named in the cast list or programme. Clara starts the ballet in a beautiful pale blue dress with a long skirt, with silver flowers embroidered on it. In the second Act she changes into an absolutely stunning deep plum tutu dress with gold embroidery that makes you say ‘wow’ out loud. The snowflake dresses were just gorgeous as well and make the snow kingdom scene completely magical!
It was a lovely evening out which people of all ages can enjoy. If you’re looking for a way to keep the magic of Christmas alive for just a little bit longer, I highly recommend a night at the ballet.
Sadly, Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet have just three performances at the Orchard, but they are touring the UK throughout January, giving people across the country the chance to see them locally. For show, dates and ticket information go here.
Guest Reviewer, Harriette Douglas.