Dance review: Northern Ballet /Theatre Marlowe, Canterbury

Theatre Marlowe, Canterbury

There may be half a dozen Nutcrackers touring the UK right now, but what each delivers can vary wildly. In the absence of a definitive choreographic text, directors can stage this ballet as they like, and all too often their choices divide between extremes of timidity and interpretative vandalism. It is a tribute to David Nixon that his new version for Northern Ballet Theatre finds a rare middle way - putting a fresh spin on what is still a very traditional-looking production.

Initially, the signs are bad. This is a Nutcracker from which much of the Hoffmann-esque magic has been stripped. The Stalbaums are now a prosaic English household, the Edwards; Herr Drosselmeyer is no longer a mysterious toy-maker but a travelling adventurer (sporting a hippy wig that makes him look like a permanent gap-year student). Most worryingly, the emotional heart of the story - the curse on the Nutcracker and Clara's role in saving him - has been minimised.

Yet, it is Drosselmeyer's power to evoke the exoticism of travel that drives this Nutcracker to its best effects. Clara - danced with spirited charm by Pippa Moore - is fascinated by Drosselmeyer's tales, and once she has dispatched the evil Mouse King, it makes sense for her to be rewarded with a miraculous journey. As concocted by Nixon and designer Charles Cusack Smith, this is beautifully staged. The snowflakes are a delirious blizzard, the sleigh ride whisks Clara far into space and the Kingdom of Sweets, so often a queasy pink-fest, becomes an elegant Chinese pagoda peopled by an exceptionally stylish international court.

It is a shame that Nixon fluffs the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux, a surviving gem from the original text. But even his brittle rewrite cannot dislodge the visual enchantment cast by this staging.

· Until Saturday. Box office: 01227 787787. Then touring.

Contributor

Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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