January 6th 2012
Chichester Festival Theatre

Despite The Nutcracker being a total dance classic, I had never actually seen it until last week. In fact, I had never seen any traditional ‘ballet’ live; unless Matthew Bourne’s contemporary version of Swan Lake can be counted. I think it is safe to say the standard of performance between the two is non-comparable, with Bourne’s being in a different league of technical brilliance.

Perhaps I should start by discussing the highlights. First, the entire look of the dance was stunning; maybe my fourth-row seat offered a visual advantage here, but the detail on Elisaveta Dvorkina’s costumes was just to-die-for. Lavish velvet bodices, beautiful romantic billowing tutus embedded with pom-poms, delicate embellishments… a total dream. Natalia Porvego’s set complimented so elegantly; a watercolour design in ice cream pastels on a seemingly endless back sheet, luxurious textures stitched within.

Valeriya Guseva as Clara was a worthy principal: light, fragile, yet utterly precise, and always with an unpained, but not cloying smile. Her partner as the Prince seemed a little introverted, his arms floundering a little in the final pas de deux. The standout performance of the night came from Daniil Orlov as the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, giver of gifts to Clara. His commitment and integrity to character shone through, his whirling cloak and wizarding ways entrancing the audience. A magician indeed.

Sadly, the corps de ballet struggled to keep up, their lack of uniformity noticeable with just a few glances; flexed and pointed feet all at once, off-timing here and stumbling there. One or two, particularly noticeably in the Arabian Dance, seemed to take real pleasure in their time to shine, whilst others appeared too invested in concentration. The choreography provided opportunities for virtuosity, but most of the executions were a little shaky, noted exceptions being the lively vpricyadku (deep kneed bends) in the Russian Dance. Nonetheless, I feel perhaps I should give the cast more credit; after all, the majority appeared incredibly young.

The staging was not always quite so forgiving. Indeed, Chichester Festival Theatre has a thrust stage, offering a new challenge to ballet companies using the proscenium arch layout. But, as an audience member viewing from the side, I felt Victor Smirnov-Golovanov’s choreography failed to consider this. At what appeared to be crucial points in the plot, my view was obscured by a curve of stationery dancers from the corps, and I found myself trying to peer between them.

Pleasantly surprisingly for a classical ballet, the two-act performance sped past; then again, I suspect the brevity of an excellent performance would not elicit such pleasure.