Market Drayton Festival Centre, 15 December
Vienna Festival Ballet on the Festival Centre stage was a match made in Christmas festival heaven. A cracking performance of The Nutcracker delivered seasonal entertainment that delighted its audience with an enchanting story, colourful spectacle, and superb dancing.
The company typically tours small and medium venues and was comfortably at home even when packing fifteen dancers at once onto the Drayton stage.
With Tchaikovsky’s well-known music and choreography adapted from the 19th century Russian Marius Petipa, this was a fairly traditional interpretation, though I did spot a couple of the mice doing the floss as backdrop to the mouse king’s dance. There was a nicely comic turn, too, from the grandmother who liked to brighten up the family Christmas party with a quick nip from her secret bottle.
The prologue in a Victorian drawing room was a warm and elegant blend of tableaux and dance. There were party games, a magic show, and exchanges of presents before wide-eyed Clara, expressively danced by Valentina Leali, eventually fell asleep and dreamed that her wooden nutcracker doll became a handsome prince.
The backdrop of a prettily decorated Christmas tree gave way to a forest of snow-capped firs and the stage seemed to shiver in blue light as the snowflakes danced thrillingly around their Queen and Prince. It was wonderfully chilling; dramatic and beautiful.
In the second act we were swept away to the Kingdom of the Sweets and warmth flooded back in a multitude of hues. The string of separate show-piece dances flowed seamlessly before us as various small ensembles introduced themselves to Clara. The Spanish, Chinese and Arabian dances, the Waltz of the Flowers, and many more sparkled like a kaleidoscope of colour with their different styles of dance to some of Tchaikovsky’s best known melodies.
The grand finale – a splendid pas de deux danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier – was both grand and graceful. It was like icing on the cake. As the magician slipped the wooden nutcracker doll back into Clara’s arms, she woke from her dream with an expression of glee more than matched by the response of her audience.