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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE NUTCRACKER (article first published : 1999-12-12)

In Africa, with temperatures reaching into the 30’s, the idea of Christmas in climes that are snowbound, where trees are barren of leaves, breath comes out in frosty clouds and people are wrapped in overcoats with gloves and scarves seems far from reality. But for a few hours, you can indulge in pure escapism with the Fantastic Flying Fish and the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Naum Rousine in a production of the perennial festive season favourite, The Nutcracker.

Crisp white tutus, sparkling snowflakes, fires burning in the grate, statues of unicorns and a gigantic Christmas tree are some of the features of this delightful ballet choreographed by Mark Hawkins and presented in association with NBS and The Playhouse Company in the Playhouse Drama until January 8.

Unfortunately, the Playhouse Drama doesn’t offer the stage space that the production enjoyed in the Playhouse Opera where it played two years ago. For a start, a couple of leaps from long-legged David Gouldie (as an impressive and dramatic Drosselmeier) takes him virtually into the wings! The smaller performance area also meant that many of the humorous moments in the opening scene were lost.

But these niggles pale into insignificance before the sheer charm and vitality of this well-directed and disciplined production which saw the FFFDC augmented by dancers from the State Theatre Ballet (senior soloists Anya Carstens, Andries Weidermann and Christian Tatchev as well as Timothy Podesta and Gerhard Pienaar) and the State Theatre Dance Company (a welcome return to the Durban stage by Ebrahim Medell). Anya Carstens alternates with Mary-Ann de Wet in the role of Clara while Andries Weidermann and Christian Tatchev share the role of the Nutcracker Prince.

Also performing are the FFFDC scholarship dancers as well as a cast of talented, well-rehearsed and endearing youngsters – particularly the littlest soldier whose enormous helmet stood in danger of totally enveloping his or her entire head!

As always, Mary-Ann de Wet gives a luminous and gossamer-light performance as crystal clear as the snowflakes that fall in Act 1 Sc.3. She is well matched by Andries Weidermann who dances with an equal consummate ease and grace. In the performance I saw, Anya Carstens was an impressive Snow Queen with Christian Tatchev strongly supportive as her cavalier. Special mention must be made of Manie Irving as Fritz who also gave a flamboyant performance in the showstopping Vodka and Nicole McCreedy who is consistently a joy to watch.

With costume and scenery design by Andrew Botha, the production is a visual treat with the opening scene featuring a striking black and white theme. One of the most successful scenes (although it was seen to better advantage in the Opera) is the transition from the party to the Land of Snow, with its skeletal trees and cloudy sky lit by a fat yellow moon – a product of Joe Freedman’s superb lighting design. The second half, set in the Land of Sweet Dreams is all butterscotch and caramel, a setting which well sets off the costumes - especially those for the Arabian dance. All told, the costumes are elegant with clean-lines and a hint of fun such as an acknowledgement to the NBS in the Valse des Fleurs!

Another triumph for NBS who have sponsored the Playhouse Company’s Summer Stage programme over the festive season. Book at Computicket. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 19h00 with various 14h30 matinees. Tickets R45 with discounts for children, scholars, students and pensioners and for shows performed to recorded music.




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