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Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, August 2012

The elegant “Jane Austen” costumes, designed by co-choreographer Toer van Schayk, indicate that the production has been set at about the time E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story was written—1816. Great care has clearly been put into getting the “look” right, for even Anna Tsygankova’s tiara in the Grand pas de deux replicates one worn by Napoleon’s Empress Josephine just a few years earlier.

This is an even “busier” production than most, with a large cast including no fewer than 51 children, some of whom are very young indeed but all of whom are clearly very enthusiastic. The youngsters dancing Clara and Frits are especially engaging and display no sign of nerves whatsoever, as well as considerable talent for their age. Great care has obviously been taken to ensure that everyone is well-characterised and acts with an individual personality. There is certainly always a lot going on on that Amsterdam Music Theatre stage.

The sets, once again the creation of Toer van Schayk, are generally well placed, often at visually interesting angles, and are very attractive, whether what we see is just a small child’s bedroom or the full-width stage. The second Act set—the interior of that magic lantern—is especially striking, with massive cogs, wheels and a giant lens, all tended by workmen with their spanners and oil-cans. All the sets create appropriate and appealing showcases for the artists. Some of the props are also very imaginative. The nutcracker doll itself is more substantial and impressive than is often the case and it even moves across the stage by, I presume, remote control. I also enjoyed the brief contribution of a particularly striking (and animatronic?) cat.

The mouse king episodes are very well done with some effective comedy. The big battle scene is very lively indeed, and I loved the brief episode where some of the mice soldiers injured in battle are stretchered off by the Mouse Red Cross. Anyone familiar with the usually-encountered version of the story will note, though, that the rodents’ parts have been significantly beefed up. Their king actually wins the battle at the end Act 1—in a striking vignette his troops haul away a cage-full of terrified loyalist toy soldiers—and he consequently features in both the subsequent waltz of the snowflakes and the “inside the magic lantern” second Act.

Mention of the waltz of the snowflakes reminds me that the corps de ballet make a real contribution to this production, particularly in the waltz of the flowers. With some really beautiful costumes, their richness emphasised by subtle lighting, and supported by fine orchestral playing that typified the whole performance, that was one of the evening’s highlights for me.

What, then, of the two principal dancers, Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding? Golding is strong, virile and technically assured while Tsygankova exhibits precision, delicacy and, above all, elegance.

…this is a very beautiful production from a visual point of view, especially when watched on High Definition Blu-Ray.

…this Dutch National Ballet production undeniably adds a very enjoyable, artistically impressive and out-of-the-ordinary account of The Nutcracker to the growing number of ballet recordings that are increasingly, these days, widely available. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

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