This ‘Nutcracker’ is an enthralling Christmas cracker

Irish National Youth Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s classic brims with raw energy

A scene from The Nutcracker

A scene from The Nutcracker

 

The Nutcracker ****

Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire

The Irish National Youth Ballet’s Nutcracker overflows with Christmas magic that enthralls dancers and audiences. Quick-paced choreography, superb costumes and enchanting scenery package the raw energy of the young performers, who move with such conviction the difference between them and members of adult ballet companies often becomes slim.

Artistic director Katherine Lewis’s penchant for discovering and nurturing talent means approximately 40 cast members have been plucked from ballet schools around Ireland to learn this action-packed ballet, which the company convincingly morphs into a coherent story.

Choreographer Kilian O’Callaghan nails the difficulty level in his version of the classic by including a vivacious party scene with refreshingly little pantomime, a polished snow scene and a final act that capitalises on each performer’s abilities. Nicola Kilmurry as Clara maintains a serene elegance throughout the ballet, and Chrissie Allen as the Snow Queen and Cormac O’Donoghue as the Prince impress with solid partnering skills.

Technically demanding

The entire company understands how to act with little over-exaggeration during the party scene, and their transformation into the more technically demanding roles in Act II happens with remarkable stamina. None of the demanding variations in Act II appear diluted, which would be understandable given the developing skill technique of these dancers. Still, Mila Evans in the Arabian dance performs the requisite overhead splits and lifts, while Ciara Blake as the Sugar Plum Fairy tackles her pointe work with grace and efficiency. During the entire ballet guest choreographer Stephen Brennan as Herr Drosselmeyer brings a flicker of magic with every swirl of his black cape.

Indeed, the strongest indication that this Nutcracker differs from those of other ballet companies occurs during the pas de deux, a dramatic and technical crescendo between the lead couple that requires character development and marked endurance. The version here, appropriately, has been replaced with a more lighthearted one. A captivating moment transpires when the curtain opens on Act II and the characters appear frozen onstage, coming to life as Clara notices them. It mirrors the overall enchantment of the Nutcracker, where young people’s dreams manifest onstage and off.