Act 1: Snowflakes
Snow King’s costume. ‘Tis a fine suit, innit.
Snowflakes – rather beautiful, as always. When it begins, you have the rows of snowflakes in two diagonal rows from the back corner to the (audience’s) right, and then the Icicles paired with Cavaliers bourre-ing en pointe and pointing forward, leading the way as the Snow King enters, bearing his Snow Queen aloft in a gorgeous swan position, arms and head back, legs high.
There are moves that the mind cannot comprehend, that are excellent. Snowflakes leap out backwards in lines of three, arms extended back and forward, and making a jumping pirouette in the air, hands meeting in the middle and extending back out again – now they’re facing the correct direction and jete across the stage to the other side. Listen to 39:48/49 above, which is the music for snowflakes flitting out in trios.
Another move I can’t wrap my mind round is one that sounds very close to the music at 40:54 or so. Everyone is in trios, including Snow Queen flanked by two Icicles in the front i.e. the lead trio. The lead trio raise an arm straight up so their hand is high overhead, and then they plie (I think they do bend their right knees) and stretch out their left leg to the side, and then they spin on the plie leg, so their left foot inscribes a (part?) circle on the ground, and they are now facing the back (as they do so, one lowered arm extends back and the hand overhead stretches out? forward? like a swan’s wing), and they run off. It’s difficult to do it gracefully and in sync. I tried it out so that I could write it out above, but without a reflective surface. I have no idea whether I described it correctly.
There are delightful little moments, like everyone (lead trio in front) bourre-ing to the front, kicking out slightly to the side as they lift their feet. Snow Queen always looks down to the sides as she does so, then lifts her eyes to the audience with a glorious smile. Another fabulous part sees the Snowflakes in their trios, in a cross / Maypole formation, a simulacrum of a four-pointed snowflake, and the snowflake whirls round lightly in the centre of the stage.
Kenya and Chihiro are the very assured Snow King and Queen, and you can see Kenya whisk himself round quickly to ensure he’s in the right place for Chihiro when she does a turn. Shan Del Vecchio and Peter Allen are back as Icicle Cavaliers – Shan Del Vecchio appears to be a steady partner for Nanase, and Peter Allen distinguishes himself especially in his demi-soloist role dancing with Shan and Kenya.
Essentially, all the Icicles and Cavaliers make watching this easy on the eye – it sails past. I like watching all three couples on stage.
Close to the end of the pas de deux, when you think the music is just about dying away, the Snow King supports Snow Queen by the waist while she is in splits, and he carries her a little way, then lands her and she pushes off again into splits, and so on, as if she’s gently flying. That needs good timing, especially because the music sounds like it’s about to end, and you just have to trust that the moves will eat up the music adequately. I’m seeing Li Jie and Nazer in my head at this point, an experienced Snow Couple.
At the end of the pas de deux, Snow King does a dead lift of the lovely Snow Queen (straight locked elbows, all the way up) off the stage. I was always of the impression that the take-off happens at a point between five-twelfths to six-thirteenths of the stage (I pressed the calculator for this – it’s around 0.43 really, but probably five-twelfths feels more accurate). But from Kenya and Chihiro’s performance, it seems it’s around the centre of the stage. Ouch! That is called parallax error.
My current absolute favourite part for their pas de deux is, however, when Snow Queen, left arm draped across her King’s shoulders, swings her left leg up and out like a graceful pendulum, and then pivots on her right toe so that the raised left leg is in attitude (raised arabesque) behind her, and her arm is still round the King’s shoulders so that they are quite close together, and then he walks 360 degrees while he continues pivoting her. Flawless and graceful.
At 43:33, should we hear a sort of low rumbling and see the three rows of 4 snowflakes flutter their hands like sudden snowfall?
Also, we must mention this other part (somewhere when the music speeds up — I can’t quite catch the point above, 44:18 to 44:29?) – where we have the lead trio especially, and their legs open from fifth to second, and they reach up and across with the opposing hand (right hand reaching for top left, left hand stretching out below) and glance at us over their shoulder. Like the points of stars. (I’m not sure I’ve the timing of the music right – 44:36 starts to lead up to the fall of snow at 44:39.)
Kwok Min Yi is a new Snow Queen – it’s always a pleasure to see someone take on a new role, and I admit I felt another lump in my throat because seeing someone move up from group to important soloist roles is always a joy, especially when the road has been filled with so much growth and so many new and interesting roles. Also, I didn’t expect this, because usually, Sugarplum has to double up as Snow Queen or Dewdrop or some sort.
It’s interesting – she dances like she’s having the time of her life, and in the part mentioned above about the points of stars, every arm and leg is a line in a crystal, and the hands and feet their points, each move made clearer and larger than life, both for feet opening and zipping together, and arms reaching wide, outwards.
Li Jie is the glorious, grand, unattainable Snow Queen. Chihiro is the gorgeous Snow Queen, royalty, Queen of the dancing Icicles. Kwok Min Yi is a fairy Snow Queen, from a little girl’s perspective.
Act – Land of Sweets
When Fritz and Clara reach the Land of Sweets, Fritz kneels so that when the Toy Soldiers burst in, they eventually end up kneeling with him to welcome Clara and the Sugarplum Fairy. At first I was rather startled to see Fritz kneeling, and for so long, too.
The Soldiers are a solid piece of work, doing their turns in turn like cogs in a mechanism, well-tuned. It’s interesting to see, for the Akira-Sugarplum night, that Jerry Wan and Reece Hudson are of one particular line of dancing (the rounded, more fluid look) while Jason Carter belongs to the class of dancing that is more on lines and planes, and Yorozu Kensuke’s dancing is a mix of the two.
I love 51:32 of the music above. That’s a part I totally didn’t expect: all and sundry emerge in order of appearance to greet their guests, and boy, does it look and sound grand! I mean, when Spanish appear to the sound of those wind instruments, you feel your spirits lift. 52:10 to 52:22 signals a slight change, and where this part once involved three of Clara’s dolls, it now involves Harlequins, which I think fits better as they’re all grown dancers. Plus, the Harlequins, in their white costumes and their quizzical poses, are a breath of fresh air. 52:24 is familiar, but I can’t recall who they are…I keep seeing light steps to the side and to the centre again, and lifted legs. Is 52:36 the Shepherd and Shepherdess (S&S)? For sure, 52:50 is their portion, so hauntingly melodic; and the violins from 52:56 take us to the fade-out at 53:06, by which time Shepherd has hoisted Shepherdess up in the air so her white sleeves trail down as she leans back and lifts her arms up gracefully as if they are water sleeves.
55:28 – good for getting people into the mood! Danced by always-dependable couples, and ending in a beautiful fish dive that is nowhere near as easy as it looks. A note that May Yen Cheah is always spritely as Spanish, with a sparkle in the eye. For the finale, the Spanish lady cocks her head back slightly and throws her hand up behind her ear, and May Yen Cheah does it so sharply and memorably. She is marvellously supported by Miura Takeaki, who makes sure the pas de deux is swift and on the mark.
Bi Ru + Kensuke are the joyous Spanish, Bi Ru bright and lively, with that proud lift of the leg in the entrance piece earlier, hands at the waist. Kensuke’s performance, summarised in 2 word, is “great lah“, which essentially means that it was a breeze to sit through, as his performances always are.
I fell ill just before the Chihiro performance,* so I left at the intermission, but from memory (of something I did see, which went well), Nanase and Jason were the delightfully efficient and sharp Spanish.
The 6 Spanish girls twirl and stride round, and there are the high proud kicks and 56:32 onwards brings us unexpectedly light-footed music for Spanish.
*Requiring shots – not liquor, though. I like to think that I’d have had the review up sooner but this just knocked the blues into me slightly.
The music after that isn’t quite included in the dance, I think. I have no idea where the harlequins’ music comes from. If you do know, please let me know…
I’m following the sequence in the pamphlet as it’s the same as the performance, I expect? I can’t remember.
When the Harlequins file in, there’s utter silence, and then they leap into the air and the music starts. If I were a crowd I’d say they were a crowd-pleaser, but the audiences remained fairly quiet. I did think they were a more than welcome addition and rather hilariously mischievous, and their dance was well-executed. They ended in a pyramid, with Jeremie Gan balancing on the upper thighs of the other 2 boys, and improvising quickly where necessary. The bows were funny and well-received — whirly dramatic flourishes with their hands, then Jeremie Gan kicking and shoving Ivan Koh into rushing off stage, then all waving as they ran off, and Agetsuma Satoru blowing kisses lavishly at the audience – think he stood out a fair bit in lines and humour.
Always love this, and the crowd does as well. Lookit those great red sashes whirling through the air! And the timing on this is precious – one girl has to run out further than the other to reach the same spot, and then when one pirouettes in a certain fashion, the other doesn’t seem to pirouette in time, and then you realise that’s because the latter needs to be at just the right point of the tight circle that they’re whirling in, at the right point in time.
Shepherd and Shepherdess
Last year, Bi Ru and Jason were the highly-energetic S&S, and this year Huo Liang and Bi Ru turn in a slightly more tempered performance.
I think one of the most fascinating parts is when he has swirled her round and they pose for a snapshot second when the Shepherd has swung the Shepherdess round and her left arm is about his shoulders and his right arm round her waist; their other arms are outstretched, and even in that single breath, the Shepherdess has to quickly slide one leg out in tendu so that in the next note, they can take off again.
Jason Carter and Suzuki Mai are a gentleman and gentlewoman S&S, light of foot and supremely gracious and genteel. I missed Etienne and Akira’s performance, but I’d seen one before and it was very lovely and sweet.
Costumes. Nutcracker Prince, Flowers (there are also yellow and blue flowers, I think), and Arabian.
I unabashedly abandon Clara’s Dolls. They are pretty good, and I’m always partial to symmetrical logical dancing, e.g. when they are in a sort of circle and start turning? and then doing arabesques, in sequential and mirror order.
We’re here for Arabian, which, like the Soldiers, is an absolute dream that whizzes past delightfully. It is the song that never ends, which is fabulous for this audience member. Unfortunately, I was trapped between two extremely bored gentlemen on Friday night after the intermission. Though they had been kind enough to accompany their lady friends, their boredom seeped out of their pores. The gentleman to the right seemed scornful whenever male dancers appeared (see the Netflix subtitle for “scoffs”), politely clapped for female dancers, and applauded with great gusto at Sugarplum Li Jie and her Cavalier (one suspects reasons). The gentleman to the left sank down in his seat after a while and I suspect he dozed off, because he clapped only sporadically, and even had to prop himself up. And as Arabian is very long for people who don’t like ballet, it was a tad uncomfortable…but honestly, I just paid attention to what was onstage because I was getting my ticket’s worth, and more.
Arabian is full of intriguing moves: ladies extending one leg forward (supported at the ankle by their partner) and leaning, bent-backed, against their partners’ arms, then righting themselves and leaning over the extended leg, folding their hands delicately over their ankles; spins involving a handhold overhead and pushing off from the other hand hold, arms at 90 degrees, legs at 90 degrees until they are folded in for the pirouette – and now imagine 3 of these in rapid succession; ladies hoisted up onto the shoulders of their gentlemen and carried about. For Saturday’s matinee in particular, they did seem to exude an air of being Arabian princesses (happy, cool, or sultry, depending on the dancer).
Dewdrop and Flowers
At last! And we’re not even at Sugarplum. Li Jie’s Dewdrop is assured, giving us the sense that she can do this in her sleep; she is the Queen of the Flowers, after all. Nanase always turns the energy up a notch when she is soloist – a solid Dewdrop. From memory, Elaine’s Dewdrop is a clear, steady Dewdrop.
Dewdrops are picked for stamina, and they never ever let on that they are tired.
I have no ballet name for this move by the Flowers, who again move across the stage rapidly in trios, across a diagonal. It involves leaps to the side, one leg extended to the side and the other tucked under (not behind, but sideways). It’s difficult to look graceful doing this, but the Flowers always are, and are also coordinated.
Sugarplum and Cavalier
I’d watched Chihiro and Kenya once, and they were a couple in love, or at least – in every breath and every move, Kenya was a delighted and devoted Cavalier. This, unlike Snow King and Queen, requires everyone to be on a high and happy note.
This is Akira’s first Sugarplum for SDT – lovely port de bras, and a sure air, and likely a child’s dream of a Sugarplum fairy, in part because she is petite. She and Etienne (always the capable, reliable partner and dancer) were wildly popular – quite an adorable and sweet pair.
Li Jie had an air of confidence in this year’s Sugarplum, and I think it went a long way in her solid fouettes and then multiple speedy spins. It was a pleasure to see that beautiful final pose with Nazer, hands lifted to the light, and you could tell the audience loved that performance, too.
If you recall, there’s this little arm movement I’m not fond of, in this pas de deux. Interestingly, I no longer notice it – it is a small brushstroke leading to a larger, grander gesture, a sweeping of the arm upwards to the light.
I love the finale, when everyone enters one last time. Not much to say on it now, though.
At last. Pictures.
Etienne, bowing to Akira.
Li Jie as Dewdrop, and Etienne and Akira.
Spanish from Akira’s performance
Li Jie and Nazer. For this performance, she handed him her entire bouquet instead of the now-customary single flower, and when he kept trying to return it, she made him keep it and in the end he bowed with it raised high and in hand. He is leaving SDT 😦
No better photos for this couple, I’m afraid. I could try to name everyone from left to right, but maybe another time.