Review: The Nutcracker and I at City Recital Hall

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

By Abbie Gallagher


Once in a blue moon, you are lucky enough to walk into a theatre and experience a stage show which is so perfect, so flawless, you want to immediately go again and drag people along with you. That is what happened last night when I walked into Sydney's City Recital Hall.


If only there existed a word apt enough to describe The Nutcracker and I. So far all I've come up with is...magical.


Such a simple premise done in a highly innovative way, The Nutcracker and I combines live ballet dance and piano alongside digital animation. The stage is covered by a scrim, behind which is a stately grand piano. Accompanist Alexandra Dariescu plays the famous Nutcracker Suite while soloist ballerina Désirée Ballantyne of the English National Ballet dances the iconic role of Clara. All other characters and set pieces are projected with over 35,000 hand drawn images in lush animation that would give Disney a run for its money. In fact, the shades of Fantasia are evoked here.


Within the first ten minutes, I stopped taking notes and simply watched. You could have heard a pin drop in the audience. I can't imagine the hours of rehearsal that would have gone into this, but it's clear given the unbelievable timing and syncing of animation to dancing. Pianist and ballerina alike never miss a beat.


The animated characters have a lot of personality, humour, and even people who don't think they ‘know’ classical music will instantly recognise the tunes of Tchaikovsky's beloved score. Speaking of which, if you can manage to tear your eyes away from the magical dancing and imagery, pianist Dariescu's hands are doing a ballet of their own, without the aid of any sheet music.


From gentle snowfall, to the Sugar Plum Fairy, every scene is painted beautifully and transports you to another world. However, depending on where you're sitting in the audience, you may miss some of the animation. I really can't stress enough that this isn't the fault of the show, but merely a downside of live performance. No seat is perfect. But this show is.


The show was designed to introduce new audiences to classical music. They have succeeded. I have never been to the ballet. I want to go now.


The Nutcracker and I is pure artistry. I was only disappointed that the show ran 55 minutes. You could sit for hours, mesmerised. It was sad to see empty seats when this deserves full houses. There is no pretense here. It's simply two world class women exercising their extraordinary talents. It was a privilege to be in that theatre and judging by the thunderous applause of my fellow theatre goers, they agree. This is one of the best productions I have ever seen.



Photo Credit: Prudence Upton



All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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