If you’re looking to bring that extra sparkle to this year's festivities then look no further than the Scottish Ballet’s recently reimagined Nutcracker. A feast for the eyes unmatched by any other production, this was the soul-food I'd been craving.
It's been a tough couple of years, there's no getting away from it. The shadows in our lives have been bleak and pervasive, which for me made this event all the more vital, and the more vibrant.
This is the best opportunity I can think of, to find that much needed light in the darkness we find ourselves in, literally and figuratively. A veritable smorgasbord of magic and movement, set against a glittering backdrop to an infamous score. As a chronically ill person, I’ve done very little socialising of late, and this was my first in-person show since before the pandemic. Times have changed again as a new wave washes over us – but for now, if you feel safe and you are able, and the show goes on – it’s a brilliant couple of hours of escapism.
There's a little bit of personal history here, as to why in my humble opinion, this is the best ballet performance you could see. Let me paint a picture: the last, and only time, I've seen this performance was its inaugural reveal back in 2014. It was a magical time in my life as I was just back from Paris, newly engaged. I had joked with my partner since I was sixteen that the day he took me to the ballet would be the day I’d know he’d love me forever. On Christmas morning in our hotel room, he gave me a beautifully illustrated copy of the Nutcracker, with tickets to the Scottish Ballet tucked inside the front cover. This was a declaration.
Later, on a deserted Pont des Arts, with Paris twinkling around us and the stars and moon above, he got down on one knee. The open box in his hand sparkled through my tears, and when I lifted my hand to get a proper look, the clock struck twelve and the Eiffel Tower burst into light over the Siene.
You can imagine my pleasure when a couple of days later, the Scottish Ballet’s newly reimagined Nutcracker bloomed before my eyes in a kaleidoscopic twirl of sequin, sparkle and snowflakes.
The sets and costumes in this contemporised reimagining are truly breath-taking. The curtains initially open to reveal a cheerful dance taking place in a traditional ballroom draped in wintry velvet, with two-toned silk dresses shimmering underneath. A heart-warming sight that I couldn’t help but grin at, both for the nostalgia depicted on stage and that of witnessing this grand production once again.
As the mysterious Drosselmeyer calls the midnight moon into the star-strewn sky above a sleeping Clara, they reveal nothing short of a dream world – the world of the Nutcracker Prince – and all its myriad glorious characters.
The company has some fresh new faces which was a delight to see, and all the dancers are exquisite in their execution, as I’ve come to expect. New this year, too, were costume and choreography changes for the Chinese and Arabian dances which was very welcome, reflecting the Scottish Ballet’s commitment to keeping abreast of diverse representation and inclusion within a stubbornly traditional industry. Also new is the depiction of Drosselmeyer by male and female dancers – a role which has traditionally only been performed by male dancers.
It struck me as a vital reflection of the progressive changes we’ve seen since the pandemic hit us, and as a testament that the world can, and is, changing for the better.
Tchaikovsky’s well-known score performed by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and Peter Darrell’s choreography will certainly impress you. From the heart-stopping stand-off between the Nutcracker Prince and the Rat King, to the intricate Pas de deux of Cavalier and Sugar Plum fairy, there’s not a single note that isn’t perfectly co-ordinated with grace and poise on the stage.
As the music soared in triumphant crescendo of strings and harp, so did my heart. When the Prince caught the Sugar Plum fairy, finally, in that last crashing moment of brass, wind and drums, it was me leaping into the sky: uncaged, and freed from all the torment that has shadowed us.
I remembered why we make art and why we should celebrate it. How joyful my heart, beating in time with that of the dancers, in the wonderful synchronicity offered by the thrill and the pulse of a live event. We are in this together.
The tumultuous applause was for more than just the performance: it was for all of us, together, connecting, celebrating, and remembering the good of humanity.
This said, the shift of arts events to a digital space has been a necessary one, and Scottish Ballet have taken strides in ensuring everyone is welcome to attend their performances. I've been grateful to participate from home when my disabilities have me unable to attend in person. I hope this hybrid approach and innovation becomes the norm, so that everyone can enjoy the magic .