THEATRE REVIEW: The Nutcracker and I – Alexandra Dariescu & Desiree Ballantyne – King’s Place  

The Nutcracker and I is a very engaging piano recital with attached ballet, both actual and projected. I caught it at King’s Place in London before it embarked on a worldwide autumn/early 2019 tour   There are some further UK dates in December.

It’s an enticingly imaginative concept and a real joy to see/hear some of the most sublimely colourful music ever written uncompromisingly introduced to a new generation of (very) tiny future ballet lovers.

The music, which Alexandra Dariescu plays passionately and dramatically on concert grand, consists of fifteen piano transcriptions by various composers. It adds up to a lot of notes but Dariescu rises to the challenge with warmth and aplomb.

The action is projected onto a downstage gauze screen with sympathetic animation by Yeast Culture. Their blue Trepak dancers are really fluid, their nutcracker prince lithe and their mice witty without becoming Disney-like.

The only live dancer, Desirée Ballantyne, communicates and dances with them all, just as Dariescu, who plays from memory in half light, makes smiling eye contact and keeps pretty well in time with the dancers. It requires quite a special skill to relate and react convincingly to something the audience can see but you can’t (think Dick Van Dyke and the penguins in Mary Poppins) but both performers have cracked it.

What I liked most about this 50-minute show was the lack of dumbing down. It’s simply music and movement with several quite long passages of piano only. There are no words or explanations, but it works. Most of the children in the audience were engaged throughout.

For narrative cohesion, I’d prefer to return to Clara’s house as she wakes from her dream at the end in the usual way, instead of the rather untidy, unclear ending we get here but that’s only a minor quibble. Generally I loved it and hope Dariescu might be planning similar versions of other ballets.

Review by Susan Elkin