No ballet embodies the wonder of Christmas quite like Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. From the Overture’s spiralling musical scales to Drosselmeyer’s final magic trick, the audience is swept away to a magical snowscape of childhood wonder and sugar confectionery. Saturday night’s Scottish Ballet production at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre is a festive delight that can be easily enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Sophie Martin (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Christopher Harrison (The Nutcracker) © Andy Ross
Sophie Martin (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Christopher Harrison (The Nutcracker)
© Andy Ross

The stage is an elegant Victorian parlour, with a giant glittering Christmas tree and inviting tables brimming with indulgent treats. The party excitement onstage is enchanting, with gorgeous period costumes and stately ballroom dancing from the adult members of the ensemble. Drosselmeyer’s parlour tricks amuse, and his assistants’ dances are fantastic, particularly Christopher Harrison as the male entertainer with his spectacular fouetté turns that glide seamlessly into retiré passé pirouettes.

This is Scottish Ballet founder Peter Darrell’s production of The Nutcracker, where children are cast in all the children's roles. Eight members of the Scottish Ballet Associates, the company’s training programme for children aged ten to sixteen play the younger party guests and, later, a troop of anthropomorphic mice in party attire. It's by no means an easy feat to include children in a stage production, but here they are a welcome addition to the cast. As party guests their joyful enthusiasm brings even more excitement to the holiday celebrations and their rabble of hungry mice is far too adorable to deserve being shot by the toy soldiers.

Twelve-year-old Lily Wearmouth makes a very sweet Clara. She is utterly endearing in eager amazement at everything around her, whether that be mundane Christmas celebrations or her fantasy journey through an icy winter to the Land of Sweets.

The magnificent white sparkling tree and the stunning snowflake archway that borders the stage are the perfect backdrop for the Snow Queen’s realm. Constance Deverney, as the Snow Queen, dances with effortless elegance, and her elevation in the batterie and amazing flexibility are a pleasure to watch. The accompanying flurry of snowflakes dances in perfect unison, yet each dancer faces a slightly different direction creating the beautiful impression that, although a unified group, each individual snowflake is unique. They hold varying positions at once, making a fantastic crystalline structure. When the choir of wordless voices is heard in the music, everything in the scene comes together to create a wonderful wintry atmosphere.

Act two opens on the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sophie Martin) in spotlight, lifted up so she appears to be flying. It is an intricate focal point that suddenly widens as the stage illuminates completely to reveal shining curtains of brightly coloured Christmas baubles. The contrast and surprise gave me shivers. Dancing with Christopher Harrison (now in the role of the Nutcracker) Martin’s stunning performance deservedly provoked roars and whistles of appreciation from the audience. The highlight for me was a spectacular lift where Harrison, holding Martin by a single ankle, parades across the stage while Martin balances upright above him in a passé retiré position.

The national dances that make up a significant portion of the second act, while fun and entertaining, are an unfortunate relic of a time when it was considered acceptable to caricature other countries’ cultures. Nutcracker’s saving grace here is that these unfortunate stereotypes come from a 19th-century Victorian child’s imagination, but this justification does not completely negate the uncomfortable impact the fan-twirling and over-the-top facial expressions of the “Chinese” dancers or the sultry mysterious music, sinuous movements and flowing snaking arms of the “Arabian” dancer can have. That said, they were very well danced and it would be unfair to judge Scottish Ballet harshly for making as tasteful a version as possible of this discomfiting aspect of the famous ballet.

Some aspects of the dances were more enjoyable. I liked the scarves used to carry the Arabian dancer offstage. The French dancers were very funny with bright pink hair, delicate small flourishes and blowing little kisses at Clara. Thomas Edwards, the English dancer, had bouncy choreography with jumping kicks and fast, complicated footwork, while the Spanish dance was playfully haughtily.

The Nutcracker is truly the quintessential Christmas ballet and Scottish Ballet’s production made for a great evening that really put me in the Christmas spirit.

****1