NORTHERN Ballet may have opened a new chapter with the appointment of Federico Bonelli as artistic director, but the company shows typical Leeds savvy in not closing the book on predecessor David Nixon.
The tenth anniversary of his sensational, sensuous, sinuous, Charleston and tango-filled The Great Gatsby will be marked with a revival in Leeds, Sheffield and London next year.
This autumn and winter comes the return of his most performed work, the festive favourite The Nutcracker, first on tour and now back home in Leeds at the Grand.
It has become the custom for choreographer and costume designer Nixon’s decorative, delightful, dazzling 2007 Northern Ballet production to see out the old year and welcome in the new every few years, most recently in 2018.
This latest return is more welcome than ever, its sparkle and joy, bravura dancing and elegant attire such a counter to this desperately destructive year of hapless politics, financial trauma, international strife and war on European soil.
Magic dances through the air from the moment of arrival, twinkling snowflakes filling the stage front cloth as the seats fill too in readiness for Nixon’s Regency England setting of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous late-19th century Christmas ballet.
Vital to that magical spell too are Charles Cusick Smith’s designs, works of winter wonder on a grand scale that sweep up audience and dancers alike in the fantastical journey from castle drawing-room party to toy battlefield, snowy fairyland and a world above the clouds.
As in every house, Kirica Takahashi’s inquisitive Clara excitedly awaits the chance to unwrap the presents that lie behind the towering, closed doors on Christmas Eve night.
When the clock strikes midnight, Clara is transported to fantasia by George Liang’s noble Nutcracker Prince, her journey through the snow orchestrated exuberantly by Gavin McCaig’s luxuriously coiffured, nimble-footed Herr Drosselmeyer.
Andrew Tomlinson’s Mouse King shows dashing bravery in defeat in Act One, whose climax mirrors the traditions of pantomime in a transformation scene graced with the most beautiful imagery of all, lit exquisitely by Mark Jonathan.
Act Two is even more of a triumph, its tempo set by Saeka Shirai’s enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy, who receives the loudest cheers of all, in tandem with Joseph Taylor’s Cavalier.
A kaleidoscopically colourful pageant of national dances – Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian – ensues, showcasing company members in democratic spirit with a playfully competitive edge overseen by McCaig’s gleeful Drosselmeyer. None surpasses Jin Ishii’s Spanish solo.
Throughout, Nixon complements Tchaikovsky’s joyous score with the poetic eloquence of his choreography, ever beautiful and charming, full of spectacle and heart, with room for mischievous humour too.
As ever, you would be crackers to miss The Nutcracker.
Northern Ballet in The Nutcracker, Leeds Grand Theatre, until January 7 2023. Performances: December 29, 7pm; December 30, 2pm, 7pm; December 31, 2pm; January 3 and 4, 7pm; January 5, 2pm, 7pm; January 6, 7pm; January 7, 2pm, 7pm. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or leedsheritagetheatres.com