The Nutcracker, Op.71 [selections arranged for piano]
Alexandra Dariescu (piano)
Désirée Ballantyne (ballerina)
Nick Hillel – Director
Adam Smith – Director of Animation
Jenna Lee – Choreographer
Sander Loonen – Technical Producer
Yeast Culture – Video-design Producers
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 19 December, 2017
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London
Christmas was ushered in at Milton Court in sparkling style by Alexandra Dariescu and friends, some mortal and some digital. The pianist has devised a dramatic presentation of The Nutcracker featuring herself and also a ballerina as Clara. The fairytale world is staged with magical video and animation effects.
It opens with a projection of a ghostly piano superimposed on Dariescu’s instrument, blurring the lines between reality and the dream-world created by Adam Smith. As the strains of the Overture filled the Hall Dariescu was spot-lit in a stunning red gown, and Désirée Ballantyne appeared as Clara wearing a cobweb-encrusted if glittering short dress. Around the performers were woven the shimmering colours and lights produced by the technical wizards. With breathtaking immediacy and lightness of touch they had constructed a captivating world of toys and faraway lands, the terrifying Mouse King and the gossamer Sugar Plum Fairy. The visual presentation – in the real world on Christmas Eve as Clara is given her presents, and the dream-journey that ensues with the Nutcracker Prince – is cleverly differentiated. We were taken to a witty and fantastical Studio Ghibli experience of rapid dissolves and transformations – appealing to children of all ages.
Dariescu’s performances were warm and virtuosic, tender and expressive. She brought gorgeous timbres to Stepan Esipov’s arrangement of the ‘Arabian Dance’ and Percy Grainger’s of ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. Mikhail Pletnev’s version of the ‘Pas de Deux’ was most affecting. Idiosyncratic improvisation added to the spectacle and Dariescu created a multisensory enchanting world through her pianistic prowess. At the end of April, a recording will be released on Signum Classics of Dariescu’s selections from The Nutcracker in various transcriptions.