Review: Cape Town City Ballet’s, The Nutcracker, December 2022, is a sparkling jewel of a production- exquisitely staged – breathtakingly beautiful dance, costumes and music

The Nutcracker- presented by Cape Town City Ballet  

When: December 7 to 23, 2022, at Artscape in the Opera House

Company: Cape Town City Ballet
Creative team: Veronica Paeper (choreographic adaption), Peter Cazalet and Michael Mitchell (set design and costumes), Wilhelm Disbergen (lighting design)

Live and recorded music: Some performances are accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) under the baton of Brandon Phillips. Other performances are set to recorded music  

Bookings: Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695 or through Computicket  

Cape Town City Ballet’s The Nutcracker is a sparkling jewel of a production. ‘Exquisite’ is how people are describing the production-raving. In an effort to add something to that, I googled synonyms to find another word but yes, I cannot top ‘exquisite’. I do not recall a festive season production, staged by CTCB, which is on this scale- snowflakes, icicles, fantastical toys and soldiers, Land of Treats and magic. The dancers dazzle – from young dancers to the company –its principals and artists. The set and costumes are opulent and lavish. The epic set (Peter Cazalet and Michael Mitchell) takes up the full volume of the stage. Wilhelm Disbergen’s lighting plot is enchanting from the opening scenes as the kids receive their gifts to snowy scenes and then to the sheer spectacle in Act 2. The music by Tchaikovsky is wondrous and sizzles with Brandon Phillips conducting the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, with his signature energy – totally wow.  Some performances are accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Other performances are set to recorded music.  Try and get to a performance with the CPO playing,

This production of the Nutcracker showcases CTCB’s precision – infusing classical ballet with bursts of athletic contemporary dance and surprises. Extraordinary feat in terms of choreography, by ballet doyenne and producer, Veronica Paeper keeping it classical with a contemporary vibe.

Everything is exquisite in Act 1, with the child dancers charming the audience. They did not miss a step, on the night that I watched. The many children in the audience were enthralled and captivated. The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets, for good reason.  Roxy Levy – children’s répétiteur -has done a fine job with the young dancers. There are forty children on stage, at each performance. Not only is their dance outstanding but they also nail it in terms of acting, in their gestural range and comic timing. Watch them as they engage with each other and the other protagonists. It is a joy to see the interaction. Children are core to The Nutcracker. The ballet celebrates childhood, playing, dreaming, imagination, receiving presents and treats- within a safe space. The Nutcracker was first performed in Russia in December 1892 and in 2022, it is one of the most popular ballets, traditionally staged in the festive season as the narrative takes place as the children are decorating the Christmas tree, in preparation for the family’s Christmas party.

A revelation for me was seeing Marcel Meyer as Drosselmeyer -the godfather of Clara and uncle of the children. In various synopses of The Nutcracker, he is described as the “strange little toy maker”, with the inference that he is scary. There is nothing “strange” or “scary” about this Drosselmeyer.  Meyer has been in many CTCB productions but in The Nutcracker he is a tour de force – the regal Drosselmeyer watching over his young charges at all times and dreaming our gaze – the audience- to the scenes as they unfold. He is like the traffic marshal – serenading Clara and the joys that are revealed on the stage. He is their guardian angel, guarding over Clara (and the other children), keeping them safe as they immerse themselves in fantasy and play. The Nutcracker is a delicious ballet. One wants to eat it all up but we must be cognisant that even in theatre and that there are boundaries to be mindful of, as we go into rapture.  I think that in this production, Drosselmeyer acts a foil in anchoring the action with his protection.

The Nutcracker libretto was adapted by Marius Petipa from the 1816 short story by ETA Hoffman, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and was set in Germany. It is about a girl who friends a nutcracker which comes to life on Christmas Eve and he goes into battle against the evil Mouse King/Rat King and all ends well. Interesting to read that according to German folklore, nutcrackers were gifted as talismans to bring luck to a family and to protect the home. Nutcrackers symbolized strength and were there to keep baddies away and vanquish evil. Nutcrackers were often in the form of toy soldiers. Throughout CTCB’s The Nutcracker; through the razzle dazzle of the dance (especially in Act 2), Drosselmeyer is present as the safety marshal.

Cape Town City Ballet’s The Nutcracker is a triumph on all fronts – dance, visuals, music – and within the spectacle and wow – is the notion that this is a safe space for the child dancers and the young audience to enjoy. This production of The Nutcracker, wraps up an extraordinary year for Cape Town City Ballet. Bravo! Do not miss.

Arabian Nights: Mikayla Isaacs and Quinton Jacobs in Cape Town City Ballet’s The Nutcracker. In the background is Marcel Meyer (in cloak) as Drosselmeyer and Gia Lipschitz as Clara. Photo: Helena Fagan.

✳ Featured image: Cape Town City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (December 2022). Photo by Helena Fagan.

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