Review: The Nutcracker, Northern Ballet, Leeds Grand Theatre, Wednesday 30th November 2023 

NORTHERN Ballet’s famous production of The Nutcracker is the stuff of childhood dreams, or grown-ups nostalgia. David Nixon CBE, Northern Ballet’s former artistic director set his classic production, here performed by 75 dancers and musicians, against an idyllic backdrop of Regency England.

Tchaikovsky’s scintillating musical score is played live in the orchestra pit by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Martin Georgiev.

The affluent Edwards family household are making Christmas Eve preparations around a huge decorated Christmas tree. Their daughter Clara will soon be whisked away to an enchanted land. She will encounter the Sugar Plum Fairy, waltzing flowers and dancing snow maidens as well the warring Mouse King and his Mice Army.

Clara’s mystical Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives with a huge box out of which step two life-size dancing dolls. There is an extra treat in store as he presents Clara and her brother Frederick with a wooden Soldier Doll able to crack nuts. The children squabble over their presents, the Doll lies broken on the floor and Drosselmeyer is left alone to weave his magic spell. He transforms the doll into a handsome Prince who accompanies Clara on board a glittering sleigh to a Winter Wonderland of Sweets. All is depicted in the magical child’s picture book scenic designs of Charles Cusick Smith. There is a powdering of snow, a luminescent full moon and a starry sky just as we all hoped for on Christmas Eve when we were kids.

Northern Ballet’s expressive narrative based style was wonderfully embodied in the first night cast. Principal dancers included Rachel Gillespie as Clara, Harris Beattie as the Nutcracker Prince, Harry Skoupas as Drosselmeyer and Bruno Serraclara as the Mouse King. Dominique Larose as the Sugar Plum Fairy, in a magnificent pink tu tu, and Jonathan Hanks as her Cavalier danced the great Act 2 Pas de Deux.

What is arguably Tchaikovsky’s best storytelling score swelled from the orchestra pit in technicolor detail. But for how much longer? Northern Ballet recently announced the replacement of a live orchestra with pre-recorded music at some of their touring venues. The Leeds based company has been forced to take this drastic measure because their Arts Council funding has not increased in real terms since 2015.

Sadly there are Philistines at large in Westminster and Whitehall. They fail to recognise the huge benefits for well being and for local economies that expanded music and arts sectors can bring. ‘Levelling up’ should mean so much more than levelling potholes.

The Nutcracker continues at Leeds Grand until Sunday 10th December. Catch it while you can. This production is dedicated to the memory of Bernard Atha CBE.