Review: Nutcracker

Christmas classic dances into the dreams of a new generation

By Rebecca Waese

Last night’s opening performance of Melbourne City Ballet’s The Nutcracker was a joyful Christmas treat. I saw a number of parents and grandparents clutching the hands of excited young children in the audience who had come to watch young Clara’s dream unfold. I brought my eight-year old daughter with me and teared up when she gasped at the Snow Queen, played last night by Emma Cheeseman, rise and pirouette on pointe in her glorious costume and tiara. With strength and grace the dancers delivered a top-quality performance, choreographed by artistic director Michael Pappalardo and principal artist Brendan Bradshaw, that engaged the audience.

Melbourne City Ballet began in 2013 with the vision of director Michael Pappalardo, a former dancer, who saw a need for a professional ballet company that could deliver the classical stories to audiences without the exorbitant ticket prices associated with the ballet. With a surplus of highly-trained dancers in the city, Pappalardo saw an opening where dancers could use their talents and provide accessible classics to metropolitan and regional audiences right in their communities. In The Nutcracker, Melbourne City Ballet brings together dancers from their Finishing Year Program and Ballet School as well as children from the Community Participation Program to play minor roles.

There was a commanding stage presence by Uncle Drosselmyer (Brendan Bradshaw) and an enjoyable sibling rivalry by last night’s Clara (Yuiko Masukawa) and last night’s Fritz (Soji Shinse). Masukawa’s grace and flexibility gave her an ageless quality and sense of wonder as Clara. For me, the Arabian dancers were a highlight, particularly the lithe extensions and sheer strength of Alex Rolfe whose grace and muscular structure was a sight to behold. Emma Cheeseman as the Snow Queen was captivating and the magic of the snow and the growing Christmas tree did not disappoint. For the young boys in the audience, unfamiliar with the sheer athleticism of dance, there were the astonishing mid-air split jumps of the Russian Dancers and creeping life-size rats to intrigue them.

With the film The Nutcracker out this Christmas holidays, this is a terrific opportunity to take the family to Melbourne City Ballet first and follow up at the cinema to see how the storyline comes alive differently on stage and on the screen. The music by Tchaikovsky is recorded but still emotive and stirring. There were a few inconsistencies with synchronicity of legs near the beginning and a few wobbles here and there, but overall I was impressed with the quality and polish of the performance. I was grateful to Melbourne City Ballet for dancing this joyous version of The Nutcracker into the dreams of a new generation of young dancers. Buy a ticket for a young dancer you love, as it’s a great pre-Christmas treat to enjoy together.


The Nutcracker is being performed 14 – 16 December at Darebin Arts Centre, 20 December at Frankston Arts Centre and 21 December at Plenty Ranges Arts & Convention Centre. Tickets can be purchased online. 

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.