Last night, all the toys tumbled out of the toybox and magically came to life. Toy soldiers marched, Russian dancers leapt and the Sugar Plum fairy stole the show. Clara displayed her delight in a series of jetés, bourées and pirouettes with her handsome prince and kept us all enthralled.
Yes, I was in the theatre enjoying the greatest of all Christmas ballets, The Nutcracker.
Though I can`t lay claim to an educated eye on these matters, everything about this production seemed just perfect. From the second the curtain was raised, and the first dancers took their place on stage, it was clear that every single move of each hand, foot, eye was carefully choreographed and painstakingly rehearsed.
The story is an old one. Clara is given a present of a Nutcracker, formed in the shape of a toy soldier. The Nutcracker comes to life at midnight, as a handsome prince. He leads the toy soldiers in a battle against the mice, and onwards he travels with Clara through the land of sweets. These sweets delight Clara in a celebration of dance, before the famous dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy with the handsome Cavalier ends the magical journey for Clara. She awakens next morning, under the Christmas tree, holding her Nutcracker toy.
The ballet company who brought this Nutcracker to the stage, are a relatively new one on the scene. This is Monica Loughman`s School of Ballet. I`ve been intrigued by Ms Loughman ever since I read about her heading to Perm in Russia at the age of fourteen for four years to train in the prestigious ballet school there. I simply couldn`t imagine,as a parent, ever letting any of my kids head off to foreign shores on their own for that length of time. And not many kids would be brave enough to do it either.
Clearly, Monica was very determined from a very early age.
Perm was tough. Food was poor, the culture was very different and Monica has said herself that she had some serious catching up to do on her first year there, to reach the standard of the Russians.
And she did. Three years after her arrival in Perm, she was accepted into the Perm State Ballet company.
Monica returned to Ireland with all of that experience, steel and ambition and set about passing so much of that on through her training of young ballet dancers in Ireland. I caught some of her work in the television programme “Ballet Chancers” a few years ago and she certainly impressed there as one very strict teacher, demanding everything of her charges.
That discipline shows in last night`s performance. The overall effect was of stunning beauty. Everything looked natural, effortless and easy. And that only comes with sheer fitness, athleticism, grace, co-ordination. And an artistic director who insists on getting even the least finger movement correct.
The set, all larger than life, added to the dreaminess of the scene. The costumes were as stunning as they were varied. This was a visual feast.
For those of you lucky enough to live in and around Dublin, this production runs on the 21st and 22nd December in The Convention Centre. Catch it if you can.
But there are Nutcrackers in lots of venues right now. It`s a bread and butter ballet for a lot of companies as it is so popular at this time of the year. Plainly, lots of people have added it to their list of Christmas traditions.
And, after last night`s performance, I am definitely adding it to mine.
Monica Loughman`s school of dance