25 November 2014
Reviewed by Erica Bourn
What a magical start to my festive season, with a fantastic performance of Tchaikovsky’s world famous ballet The Nutcracker when the acclaimed Vienna Festival Ballet company returned to York’s Grand Opera House last night.
Vienna Festival Ballet, which was formed in 1980, regularly tours the UK under artistic director Peter Mallek, and aims to spread the love of this art form to audiences, young and old, in an affordable and accessible way. The company is extremely hardworking, spending approximately seven months of the year on tour, delighting town after town with their vibrant and energetic performances often for ‘one night only’. Their production showed that a small company, with a lot of doubling up -, even trebling, can put on a production that fills the stage with colour and movement, aided by imaginative and portable set design and exquisite costumes.
The tale of The Nutcracker opens up with guests arriving for a Christmas party, including a wonderful tipsy granny, where the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer presents Clara, (beautifully played by Jodie McKnight), with a nutcracker doll. In the middle of the night, she sneaks downstairs to retrieve her beloved gift, when he magically transforms into a Princely soldier. Their adventures then see the Prince and Clara combat the Mouse King and then join the Sugar Plum Fairy, (danced wonderfully by Yorkshire born Emily-Joy Smith), on a wonderful trip to a Kingdom made entirely of sweets, the backdrop to Act 2.
A most wonderful candy shop of pleasures greet the audience following the interval, where dances based on a celebration of sweets around the world is presented; chocolate from Spain, tea from China, coffee from Arabia and the Mirlitons representing cherry nougat. We also see a Harlequin clown, Trepak dance from Russia, and the Waltz of the Flowers. Of particular note for me from these sequences was the Arabian dance, performed by Nahia Gill, Andrew Cook, Luca Varone and Marcus Uso, which left the audience spellbound with its stunning movement and air of eroticism. Nor can we forget the stunning Grand Pas de Deux finale, a superb final flourish before we see our heroine Clara awakening from her dream still clutching her precious nutcracker doll.
Tchaikovsky’s score is magnificent, and its familiarity leads even the ballet virgins in the audience to immediately feel relaxed. So much of the music has been used in adverts and alike, yet to hear its full magnificence set to the ballet for which it is intended was wonderful. Unfortunately it was not a live orchestra and this in all honesty would have further added to the atmosphere, (yet it is fully understood that for a touring company such as this costs would be prohibitive), and the recorded music worked well, particularly in the second act I felt.
As always, York’s lovely Grand Opera House proved a perfect host for proceedings. Lovely atmosphere, amicable staff and comfortable seats with great legroom in our dress circle seats. It’s also very accessible – a great location near the Castle car park, main bus routes and plenty of York’s eateries if you wanted to twin an evening at the theatre with a bite to eat.
Thoroughly enjoyable evening and a well-deserved 4.5/5. Will be on a particular look out for when the Vienna Festival Ballet return to town, and would not hesitate to recommend it to others if it’s visiting a theatre near you.
For the Vienna Festival Ballet’s Autumn/Winter tour dates visit www.viennafestivalballet.com.
Grand Opera House York, Clifford and Cumberland Street, York, YO1 9SW | 0844 8713024