The Nutcracker

Production: Elizabeth Triegaardt

Cast: Members of Cape Town City Ballet and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Allan Stephenson

Venue: Artscape Opera House until: Sunday

Rating: ****

All the sweetness and high spirits of an old-fashioned Christmas are distilled into this traditional staging of The Nutcracker: fun, fantasy, romance and proficient dancing make Cape Town City Ballet’s current production a must for young and old alike this festive season.

With a slender budget at its disposal, the company has done wonders in capturing the spectacle attendant on a balletic fairy tale such as this. Visual delights abound, among them the radiant bustle of a well-heeled family home at the turn of last century; the magical voyage of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince to exotic lands; and the icy glitter of the snow and ice kingdom.

Cunningly contrived sets, evocative lighting and well-conceived costumes with just the right measure of bling all play their part in conveying the surreal beauty of this evergreen ballet.

There is no shortage of impressive solo dancing, but it is the partnerships that distinguish this Nutcracker, from familiar and established duos like that of Laura Bosenberg and Thomas Thorne (a couple who grow in stature from one production to the next), to new pairings. Kirstel Jensen and Trevor Schoonraad (pictured), making their début as the Older Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, are a case in point.

Thorne’s versatility is apparent when he partners elegant Angela Hansford as they fill the roles of Snow Prince and Snow Queen in alternate casting.

Each of these partnerships is characterised by warmth, authority and reciprocity of dependence, as well as match- ing technical prowess and physique.

Full marks to Mervyn Williams, who retrieved an awkward situation with equanimity when he tripped in the voluminous cloak he wore as Herr Drosselmeyer and was laid low in mid-solo; he continued as if this mishap was part of the choreography.

On the subject of the latter, Robin van Wyk has significantly improved the choreography of the Rats versus the Toy Soldiers sequence.

The senior rodents are more credible in their aggression than in previous productions in which their antics resembled those of costumed kiddies on a picnic romp.

Noteworthy performances are turned in by Elizabeth Nienaber, a fresh-faced and ebullient Young Clara; Oscar Pearson, a suitably brattish little Fritz; and the ever-beguiling Laura Bosenberg who convinces equally as Young Clara and her older incarnation.

Thomas Thorne is in blazing form and well up to the demands of whichever princely role he fills.

Dedicating a performance to the late Mignon Furman may have had a sobering effect on the Cape Philharmonic’s accom- paniment, as the sprightly overture coming immediately after a prefatory tribute received muted rendition from its musi- cians – although they went on to capture all the exuberance of Tchaikovsky’s irresistibly lyrical score as the evening progressed.

Whether for lovers of ballet, or simply for those who appreciate elegance and spectacle, this Nutcracker is highly recommended.