By BRUCE DENNILL
The Nutcracker / Joburg Ballet / The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
The Nutcracker remains a nostalgic favourite for ballet audiences all over the world, being one of the most likely ballets for young children to be introduced to early on on account of its kid-friendly themes – Christmas, toys and fairies, rather than dying waterfowl, nobles in comas or warring Italian families.
For Joburg Ballet’s new production, there was new input in the form of choreography from Angela Malan (a principal dancer with the South African Ballet Theatre, the previous incarnation of Joburg Ballet), new sets and lighting from Wilhelm Disbergen and, most notably, the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eddie Clayton, to play Tchaikovsky’s famous score live.
The latter facet certainly improves on the cheaper backing track option from both a sonic perspective – oh, the bassoon in The Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy! – and in terms of the sense of occasion that was, for many audience members, associated with a night at the ballet in years gone by. The warm-ups and tuning in the lead-up to the start of the show have an effect on the anticipatory ambience in the theatre that can’t be replaced by anything else, and the richness of the sound produced by the orchestra is superior to what most sound systems, however sophisticated, are capable of.
Relative to many of the other mainstream favourites in the ballet canon, the choreography in The Nutcracker is fairly safe, though the dynamics and complexity pick up considerably in the second act, with the Chocolate/Spanish Dance and Coffee/Arabian Dance being some of the highlights in this production, and Ruan Galdino and the extraordinarily flexible Monike Cristina giving the latter sequence fantastic flair.
Disbergen adds to the sense of celebration in the Stalhbaum’s home (in the first act) with bright colours, digitally projected snowfall outside the window and a Christmas tree that extends grows dramatically. That fine-focus detail is altered in the second act when the backdrops are less defined (giant pastel- or watercolour-style pictures) – less stark, but perhaps balancing out the greater vigour of the dancers’ movements.
Soloist Shana Dewey starred as Clara in the performance under review, doing an excellent job in this lead role.