Review By Gemma Keliher
Now a Christmas time tradition, Queensland Ballet’s performance of Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker once again delights its Brisbane audience. After another taxing year, being swept away into the dream world of The Nutcracker, with its magical characters, lavish fairytale sets, and famous score, is exactly the event needed to get into the Christmas spirit and Queensland Ballet brings this spirit wholeheartedly.
Those that attended last year’s Best of The Nutcracker will recognise many familiar faces reprising their roles, as well as the beautiful and detailed costumes designed by Desmond Heeley and Associate Costume Designer Noelene Hill that appear each season, but there will be one exciting difference between last year’s performance and now. With the re-introduction of the full-length production, we also warmly welcome back a live orchestra. While it was still a treat to watch a small selection of the The Nutcracker during the last covid Christmas, there is something extra magical about hearing Tchaikovsky’s score swell up from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to accompany the dancers.
With the stage framed by a holly decorated border, each set designed by Thomas Boyd felt like a beautifully painted Christmas card come to life. The Land of Snow that introduced us to the Snow Queen and Snow Prince brought the frosty feeling of a white Christmas to a sweltering Brisbane December. With the inclusion of falling “snow” on stage it was like being transported into a recently shaken snow globe. The transformation of the theatre into a winter wonderland was complete when the snow began to fall across the audience, though there was some confusion whether this was meant for during the end of Act I rather than the start of intermission.
Act I was a flurry of colour, activity, and laughter – just perfect for the younger ones in the audience or those new to ballet. The focus is heavily on story building and the characters, as we moved from a raucous Christmas party to Clara’s dream world, complete with toys come to life and wicked mice led by their King Rat. The dedication to the characterisations by the Queensland Ballet dancers is commendable, and the acting element of their roles brings life and energy to the stage. Notable stand outs include Laura Tosar as Grandmother, Rian Thompson as Grandfather, and Mia Heathcote as Auntie, who all provided many comedic moments and were fully committed in their character choices and physical comedy. The many young dancers that filled the stage should feel proud of how they performed throughout the show, all doing a remarkable job for dancers of such a young age.
Transported in the Kingdom of Sweets, Act II becomes a showcase for both Clara and the audience, where the choreography and technique can shine. Notable standouts for the evening include Chiara Gonzalez and Patricio Revé as the Arabian dancers whose partnered lifts showed such strength, control, and flexibility, Vito Bernasconi as the Russian Dancer (Gopak) whose effortless jumps had the audience clapping along in earnest, and a beautiful performance of the Waltz of the Flowers, with Lead Flower Couple, Georgia Swan and Joel Woellner, dancing well together as a pairing. My personal favourite performances came from Yanela Piñera as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Camilo Ramos as the Prince. The role of Sugar Plum Fairy is well suited to Piñera in that it allows the absolute power and precision she possesses to be on display, particularly during her pirouettes. She performs with such an ease and is the dancer that inspires the next generation. Anyone taking their young children to the ballet for the first time this Christmas, expect to start searching for ballet schools come the new year. Even the older ones in the audience will feel inspired knowing they are watching a master of her craft. The partnership between Piñera and husband Ramos is incredibly strong - the skill and elegance of Ramos compliments Piñera and resulted in a breathtaking grand pas de deux. Sadly, this production will be the last of Ramos, as he retires from his professional ballet career after The Nutcracker season. In what must be a most memorable way to end his career, dancing alongside his wife, the emotion of this being his last opening night performance was evident and his performance shone with the love that Ramos has for ballet, the stage, and his partner.
Another Christmas with another season of The Nutcracker and it is evident that this has become a beloved tradition; the magic and beauty of the production bringing cheer to its audiences and truly marking the start of the Christmas season. If you are looking to start a fun family tradition, Queensland Ballet’s version of this well-loved ballet is worth adding to your must-do events.