Civic Theatre, Tallaght ***
Anne Maher, director of Ballet Ireland, is judicious in her casting, staging and direction. From the opening scenes at the Christmas Eve party in the Stahlbaum family home, the narrative vocabulary of ballet is well exploited, so the tale can be related with clarity and humour through vivacious gesture and the agility of their movement.
Zia Holly’s lighting and staging are central to this, especially in Act 1. In the battle with the rats, Holly plays cleverly with perspective so that, by seeming to dwarf all the human characters, the clawing rodents are all the more menacing. When Clara is awoken by her Nutcracker doll, now transformed into a dashing romantic hero, she is then whisked off to a winter wonderland of snowflakes. Soon after comes the highpoint of the romance and adventure: the meeting with her idealised feminine heroine/fairy godmother and imagined older self in the figure of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Maher has invested wisely in the roles of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy, both of whom are key to elevating the magical appeal of this classic. Ryoko Yaguya’s feather light, girlish Clara lights up the stage with her smile, her pointe work and her guileless charm. While Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton starred in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy at this production’s opening night in the Gaiety, here a youthful Maria Ledesma rose to the occasion and in context was suitably gracious and shimmering, with Tchaikovsky’s luscious score caressing the pirouettes and rising to crescendos in some effortless lifts and partnering by her consort Dominic Harrison.
This tone of effortlessness emanated quietly throughout the show, a benefit of many weeks together as an ensemble. Their performance was never jaded but rather imbued with spirit and vitality, drawbacks in finesse balanced by being attuned to the rhythms of the score.
Touring until December 22nd