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Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker is a beautifully revised Christmas classic

Wednesday 5th January 20.01

As the Christmas Markets reopen and mince pie is back on the shelves, it is once again The Nutcracker season in the year of ballet companies. The first tour of Scottish Ballet since Covid-19 pandemic began, The Nutcracker offers a delightful getaway from the cold and wet streets of Edinburgh into a Victorian fairy tale from 1st till 29th December. Countless versions and choreographies have been made for the original 1892 ballet, with Tchaikovsky’s score now being a traditional tune associated with Christmas. Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker is set apart with its visibly modern touch on the set design with minimal yet effective décor, with 4500 baubles hanging from the ceiling in Act II being his iconic touch.  

The incredible Scottish Ballet Orchestra starts playing and the doors open to the magical world of The Nutcracker. The costumes immediately catch the eye with magician Drosselmeyer’s glitter cape and then the padded, flamboyant gowns, which, together with the warm lighting take the audience to what feels like a genuine Victorian Christmas eve. Soloist Aisling Brangan’s fabulous energy made sure to keep the audience’s eyes on her throughout Act I. Also, the Act was a delight to watch partly due to the casting of real children as Clara and her friends. Caoimhe Fisher was superb as Clara, and the young boys each had differently mischievous personalities within seconds, which made the first scene even more endearing. 

Jerome Anthony, who was promoted to Principal in December, showcased unending energy in his pirouettes and jetés and sustained all the charm of The Nutcracker Prince while doing so. His energy was accompanied by captivating performances by Sophie Martin as Sugar Plum Fairy and Constance Devernay as The Snow Queen. Lastly, Artists of the Scottish Ballet at the Waltz of the Flowers were magical with their elegant synch, the costume design, the Scottish Ballet Orchestra especially the incredible harp and clarinet.

Scottish Ballet is one of the latest professions to tackle the racism and Euro-centric lens it systematically has had. But better late than never, this is starting to change in a movement led by inspirational black and minority ethnic dancers (check out Chloe Lopes Gomes and Phil Chan) across the world. In line with this, Scottish Ballet revised the Chinese and Arabian inspired variations in The Nutcracker’s Act II. 

“As ballet evolves to meet the needs and expectations of our globally connected world, we recognize the importance of doing this more accurately, positively and respectfully to ensure this production can be enjoyed by all.” Stated the Scottish Ballet on their website.

For Tea (Chinese Dance), traditional Chinese dance specialist Annie Au was hired to make the new choreography and costumes more celebratory and authentic. Scottish Ballet stated that the new costumes “focus on inspiration over imitation. We have jettisoned the reference to the ‘queue’ (the ponytail) and opted for a more traditional flower in the hair at Annie Au’s suggestion.” Overall, Tea variation was superb thanks to Artists Anna Williams and Rishan Benjamin executing it beautifully. My only issue with it was that it happened so fast; the music for it was shortened and it felt rushed.

However, I absolutely loved the new costume for Chocolate (Arabian Dance). Unlike the earlier two-piece versions, it did not sexualize Arab women and the whole variation did not have the harem-ic air to it. Instead, Soloist Grace Horler’s tutu had Arabic inspired sowings around it, and the glitter details on her hands that looked like henna made the whole variation gracious and genuine. 

Overall, if you are in town, I say definitely go see Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which was one of the best versions I have ever seen.

Image Credits: The Nutcracker campaign Image. Photography by Nicola Selby with Artwork by Scottish Ballet Design Team. Courtesy of the Scottish Ballet