The Nutcracker (2018)

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

17/11/2018 - 18/11/2018

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

28/11/2018 - 28/11/2018

Opera House, Wellington

31/10/2018 - 04/11/2018

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

22/11/2018 - 25/11/2018

Municipal Theatre, Napier

01/12/2018 - 01/12/2018

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

06/12/2018 - 09/12/2018

Production Details

The Nutcracker –  Festive fun for all the family

The Royal New Zealand Ballet spreads festive cheer from Auckland to Invercargill this Christmas with The Ryman Healthcare Season of The Nutcracker. This brand new traditional production by world-renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli is inspired by E.T.A Hoffmann’s 1816 novel The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker says: “Seeing a performance of The Nutcracker creates special memories and family traditions. It’s an enchanting ballet that the entire family can enjoy year after year. The Nutcracker shares the joy of the holidays and reminds us whether we are young or old that to dream is the most magical gift of all.”

Gordon MacLeod, Chief Executive of Ryman Healthcare, said the team was excited for the Nutcracker season. “I think Christmas 2018 is going to be extra special for thousands of New Zealanders thanks to this festive ballet. We’re pleased to have been asked to support this tour, which we’re sure will bring a lot of joy to young and old.’’ “We will be getting into the swing of things with Nutcracker-themed activities at our villages so our residents and staff can be part of the fun in the lead-up to Christmas.’’

Many RNZB dancers past and present took their first steps on the professional stage as child extras in The Nutcracker. The company is thrilled to continue this special ballet tradition in 2018. RNZB Ballet Masters travelled around the country auditioning 665 young dancers from 95 schools, with 351 being given the opportunity to perform on stage with the RNZB as the company tours the production throughout New Zealand from 31 October – 15 December.

The RNZB will team up with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hamish McKeich who will perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s much-loved score in their respective cities with a specially-made recording to accompany performances in Invercargill, Blenheim, Palmerston North and Napier.

School matinee performances in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland have already sold out and the RNZB is grateful to funders including the Four Winds Foundation, The Ballet Foundation of New Zealand and Perpetual Guardian – New Zealand Charitable Foundation who have subsidised students’ tickets and their transport costs, as well as other community and education initiatives throughout the Nutcracker tour. Selected matinee performances in Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland will include audio description for blind and visually-impaired audience members.  This outreach initiative by RNZB Education proved hugely popular with audiences for the RNZB’s Romeo and Juliet in Auckland  in 2017 and is now expanding with support from the Trillian Trust.

Four new company members will make their debuts with the RNZB during The Nutcracker, in addition, three students from the New Zealand School of Dance and one intern from Mount Eden Dance Academy in Auckland, will join the corps de ballet for the duration of the season.

Wellingtonians and visitors to the city are invited to enjoy the RNZB’s annual free all-day event at Te Papa on Saturday 29 September. Ballet lovers young and old can watch class on stage and rehearsals of The Nutcracker in Soundings Theatre as well as many other attractions, workshops and classes taking place around the building throughout the day.

For details of how to book in all venues, including special prices for children and groups, see The Ryman Healthcare Season of The Nutcracker opens in Wellington on 31 October, touring to Blenheim, Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Napier and Auckland, and concludes with performances at Takapuna’s Bruce Mason Centre on 14 and 15 December.

Bookings – 

Family , Dance ,


Conscious magic

Review by 07th Dec 2018

My granddaughter intuitively dresses herself in soft tulle and, with hair neatly braided, accompanies me for her first time ever to the ballet. She is five and nervous. We enter Auckland’s iconic Civic Theatre, watch the stars and the orchestra warming up in the deep pit. Her eyes are luminous as the red velvet curtain rises to the first scene of an archetypical ballet, The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky premiered this much-loved ballet in 1892 with Marius Petipa and his assistant Lev Ivanov, the original choreographers. This version is choreographed by American Val Caniparoli, an experienced and versatile dance artist with musicality up his sleeve

Clever filmic screens in sepia hues draw us inside Drosselmeier’s house, The toymaker, a gesturally restrained Nicholas Schultz, is assembling unusually lifelike toys as Christmas gifts for a neighbouring family. Each next set designed by Michael Auer is as artful and, in the way the sets shift time within the scene, magical. Lighting design, by Jon Buswell restrains us from excessive or gratuitous fare. And my granddaughter sighs and does the classic thing – she says, “It is magic, isn’t it Gran!”

The simple plot and its conscious magic lay bare a perspective about the Stahlbaum family’s acceptance of their Christmas gifts. Swirling rococo colours, twirling children and the mischievous Fritz danced so well by Lukas Maher, transport me back to my first ballet experience, also the Nutcracker, London, 1971. I feel like the daughter Marie (Katherine Minor), receiving my Christmas gift of memory through generations. This is what The Nutcracker does. The gift is in watching between generations, the magic and the ballet dance.

Minor weaves the ghost of dance tradition into her sensitive dancing. In the first and second dream sequences, Drosselmeier’s canny knack of turning dolls into live performers is not lost on me. The fight between mice and men, time moving along, symbolised by a larger grandfather clock skimming across the stage, offers a third metaphor. This is more to do with classical dance as a strange and stirring non-verbal medium. The imaginary and my granddaughter’s experiencing become a way of watching. 

In the second act, the characters of the Sugar Plum Fairy (beautifully danced by Sara Garbowski) and Marie switch into playful musicality, unquestionably supported by the Auckland Philarmonia’s musical conductor, Hamish McKeich. Dancers’ complicated backward movements, suspended leg work, pirouettes and delicate attitude hops between grand jetes are all rhythmically entwined with Tchaikovsky’s lovely music. Scenes of white snowflakes and red pohutakawas are nicely spaced, sequenced and lyrical with much arm gestures. (My granddaughter copies them!)

There are beaux-like demeanours of the graceful key male dancers (Cavalier, Alexandre Ferreira and Nutcracker Prince, Fabio Lo Giudice). In this performance, their raison d’etre seems un-developed. With the lack of love and sensuous connection, I realise this ballet speaks to a magical nuance of feminine power, albeit dressed in tulle. Other male dancers dance with equal surety and hold their females with grace and dignity, yet I am more than ever conscious of males in the ballet as roles now in alteration.

The Nutcracker may be nothing more than a childish story, but in this work is the initiation of a new balletic generation. It is perhaps visible most in one duet. I see the magic of two bodies working in sensuous balletic unconcern. In Act II’s set of national variations, Abigail Boyle and Loughlan Prior shine as the couple. Arabian dancers juxtapose my gendered musing. Betwixt a range of other nicely costumed national dances, the tightly choreographed quartet Tarantella danced by Kirby Selchow, Caroline Wiley, Joseph Skelton and Wan Bin Yuan, and the Dewdrop danced by Mayu Tanigaito with dervish fervour, bespeak a national company in the throes of stylistic reinvention. Beyond the tradition and in their eclectic and watchable dancing, the Royal New Zealand Ballet may be-coming into their new age. 


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A coming of age story

Review by Kim Buckley 03rd Dec 2018

I think as a nation, we love a good ‘Coming of Age’ story. This genre has a rich history with Kiwis, right throughout our arts community; literary, filmic, painted, sculpted, acted and danced.  The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s guest choreographer Val Caniparoli gives us his (4th) version of The Nutcracker, and it is a romantic version of burgeoning womanhood and male gallantry.

This year The Nutcracker is a Christmas treat and entertains all. We have a full house at the Napier Municipal. 

The set design by Austrian Michael Auer, is stunning to start with the houses of Herr Drosselmeier and Marie Stahlbaum side by side. It is unfortunate that the Marzipan Castle remains a dull sketch on a dull backboard at the end. The delightful never-ending snowstorm is magical and the dancers create whirls of it as they run through. Lighting and visual projections by Jon Buswell are rich and paint a fantastic illusion. Patricia Barker has done an extraordinary job with costume design, with a well deserved nod to the New Zealand Pōhutakawa flower in one of the tutus. Having twelve of them twirling around the stage is magnificent.

Once again, we are not lucky enough to have a live orchestra in Napier, but the Kirov Orchestra recording does the trick.

All the dancers perform with energy and enthusiasm.  Katherine Precourt is strong and fluid, performing with Paul Mathews as Arabian Coffee in Act II. They have perfect timing in their gorgeous partnering. The classic Sugar Plum Fairy choreography created for the celesta, however,  is not iconic. The movement, although danced beautifully by Kate Kadow, is at odds with this famous sparkling piece of Tchaikovsky. I feel deflated.

In Act I, the local children perform brilliantly.

Val Caniparoli suggests in his program notes that we should bring someone we love to see this Nutcracker. I took someone I love. Mr 10 is a ballet dancer and he is WOWED, in particular by the Russian Caviar danced by Vincent Fraola, Shaun James Kelly and Joaquin Thomas-Mourad.



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A Nutcracker of kindness and mystery

Review by Tania Kopytko 29th Nov 2018

The Royal New Zealand Ballet took the stage with fire, energy and elegance in Palmerston North last night. It was a tour de force. Choreographer Val Caniparoli’s Nutcracker gave us all the sweetness and fantasy that people expect in this traditional Christmas magic special, but with some new twists.

This is a Nutcracker of kindness and mystery. Herr Drosselmeier was more a kindly seer, who understood that Marie was at that delightful and frightening stage of changing from a girl to a young woman, discovering love for the first time, taking her first steps into the big world, having dreams and aspirations. He created that fantasy and let her safely explore.  But danger did lurk, in the form of the aggressive mice, soon vanquished by the handsome Nutcracker prince and his soldiers.

Caniparoli’s choreography was musical and romantic. It moved at a swift pace and expected strong technique of the dancers – particularly their leaps and turns. This allowed some of the soloists to really shine – in particular, the technical mastery of Maya Tanigaito as the Sugar Plum Fairy, whom the audience adored, as they also did the fantastic pirouettes of Nadia Yanowsky as Dewdrop. Tanigaito not only performed perfectly with beautiful precision, timing and phrasing, but her beautiful face never stopped sparkling and smiling. In the land of sweets the “Russian Caviar” trio, Vincent Fraola, Kihiro Kusukami and Joaquin Thomas-Mourad, simply soared and powered their way around and across the stage in magnificently executed Russian-style movements. The traditional Chinese dance was replaced by a lovely solo by Fabio Lo Giudice and a performing Chinese Lion. A nice touch was the Pohutukawa flowers for the waltz of the flowers. The choreography swept them around and through the music, but also with slight hesitations on beats. There was a beautiful low circular tableau in the mid-section. It was far less static than some other versions of this dance. The long red tutus with a hint of green in the underskirt were beautiful and added richness to this scene, which I felt was nicer than the traditional pink tutus. Patricia Barker, costume designer of this production, created some beautiful costumes. The male soloists also danced beautifully. Paul Mathews was charming as the Sugar Plum’s Cavalier, managing some spectacular lifts and catches. Maria’s Nutcracker prince was charmingly portrayed by Laurynas Vejalis. He and Caroline Wiley (Maria) were perfect partners and danced beautifully and delicately together.

The last compliments have to go to the local children who performed and to the choreographer for providing such beautiful, and at times challenging, dance for them to do, plus many more opportunities for them to dance in this production than I have seen offered in other versions. Their costuming was beautiful and the audience loved their performances. The set (Michael Auer) looked beautiful in the grand Regent Theatre and the lighting design and visual projections were lovely. But the real magic was the never ending snowfall at the end of the first act while the delightful dancing snowflakes whirled around. While we didn’t have a live orchestra, it was lovely to have the cast dancing to the masterful Kirov Orchestra’s version of The Nutcracker.

Have a great tour RNZB. We look forward to seeing you in again 2019.


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Northern Hemisphere Nutcracker lacks magic

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 23rd Nov 2018

NB this is an expanded version of a review that appeared in The Press, Christchurch

The challenge for any production of The Nutcracker is to create a theatrical experience that is both accessible and magical for children while providing a sophisticated and imaginative experience for adults already familiar with both plot and music. The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s previous production of this perennial family favourite, set in a hospital’s children’s ward, achieved this difficult balance with witty choreography and clever subversion of the traditional story, while also producing moments of magic.  It provided a tailor-made part for Sir Jon Trimmer as dragon-like pantomime matron and one of the cleverest choreographic sequences I have ever seen, a dance for two men with casts and crutches to the Mirlitons’ variation that had the entire audience laughing out loud.

However, this 2018 production returns firmly to the traditional camp, and the balance is decidedly weighted towards the children in the audience.  The first act introduces the familiar figures of the toymaker, Drosselmeier, engagingly characterised by Loughlan Prior, and the Stahlbaum family, whose daughter Marie receives the Christmas gift of the Nutcracker doll which forms the pivot of the story. 

The Christmas festivities are those of the winter-bound northern hemisphere rather than anything that a New Zealand audience will recognise as part of their festive season and the period costumes suggest the early 19th century Biedermeier era, the time of E. T. A. Hoffman’s story, from which the ballet is derived.  The Stahlbaum’s drawing room is however, a rather bleak affair, with scarcely a stick of furniture except for the clock and sofa the story requires.  There is not a family portrait on the walls nor a hint of bourgeois luxury, creating the impression that the bailiffs have recently visited. The festivities remain undimmed and the Christmas party is filled with children, drawn from local ballet schools, whose enthusiastic performances delighted the opening night audience.  Matthieu Rigter is an energetic Fritz but lacks the roguish and malevolent streak that provokes the breaking of the Nutcracker doll. 

The conflict between Fritz and Marie, attractively performed by Marie Varlet, remains underdeveloped. As a result her subsequent nightmare vision of the battle between the toy soldiers and the cohorts of the Mouse King lacks conviction, and the frisson of menace that this sequence should produce is missing.  Rather than dispatching the Mouse King with a well-aimed slipper, in this production Marie somewhat treacherously distracts him by pulling his tail, thus allowing the Nutcracker to deliver a fatal sword blow.  This rearrangement of the plot changes the traditional dynamic of their relationship, since rather than singlehandedly saving the Nutcracker through her own bravery, it is ultimately Marie who is saved, an all too conventional outcome for 2018.

Once delivered by the Nutcracker Prince, handsomely portrayed by Shaun James Kelly, the pair enter the Kingdom of Snowflakes, characterised in this production by a veritable blizzard that intensifies as Tchaikovsky’s transcendent score rises to its Act I climax.  Such is the intensity of the falling “snow” that it distracts from the dancing and makes one wonder if climate change has now invaded the theatre.

The Act II variations in the Land of Sweets offer greater opportunities for individual dancers to shine.  Paul Mathews and Katharine Precourt are sinuously exotic in Arabian Coffee while Kihiro Kusukami’s Chinese Tea bursts with energy.  As Dewdrop, Mayu Tanigaito brings her usual sparkle to the Waltz of the Flowers, here described as Pōhutukawa, although in reality more Viennese ballroom than Takapuna Beach. The culmination of any Nutcracker should be the pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, one of the few parts of the ballet’s original choreography to survive.  Technically demanding and perfectly crafted to Tchaikovsky’s soaring music, it should be a tour de force of virtuoso dancing.  Nadia Yanovsky, however, seems miscast in the role and is unable to convey the effortless radiance the part requires.  Joseph Skelton was her attentive and polished Cavalier.

This Nutcracker, while enthusiastically received by a large audience, is a rather mixed bag; Val Caniparoli’s choreography is largely unmemorable and sometimes spoiled by fussy detail.  Michael Auer’s sets are merely serviceable and have a rather cut-price look.  However, no production that has the benefit of Tchaikovsky’s incomparable score played live is without merit and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hamish McKeich, added lustre to the evening.





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A chance to dream a little?

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 01st Nov 2018

The Nutcracker is a real ballet classic beloved by all and well known by everyone, with the Prince, the snowflakes, the party, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara (in this production Marie) with the mysterious Drosselmeyer – bearer of unusual presents and magical tricks.

The music by Tchaikovsky is full of those hum-along melodies that connect us to childhood and mystery and is superbly played by the NZSO under the ebullient baton of Hamish McKeich.  Chocolate-box costuming and traditional design set the stage with a palette of untextured colour and the snow falls and falls.

Marie, danced assuredly by a wide-eyed Katherine Minor, and her handsome Prince, Fabio Lo Giudice, swirl in a lovely pas de deux of lifts and leaps as we wonder how they could possibly dance in such white-out conditions. Husband and wife in real life, they have a real onstage chemistry together.

There are choreographic twists by American guest choreographer Val Caniparoli aplenty but  I feel the constant musical manipulation detracts from the flow of many sequences.

The opening is effective and sets the stage for the unexpected with a very youthful and debonair Drosselmeyer in his toyshop preparing for the party. This is very traditional but missing wizardry, and the swords and dolls given to the children seem very inappropriate in this gender-equitable age!

Local children are to be a feature throughout the country and they dance very well and clearly relish their opportunity to shine. A small choir from The Orpheus Choir sings from the boxes and transports Marie and us through a winter wonderland of snowflakes to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Nadia Yanowsky).

Act 2 needs to be full of delicious virtuosity and dancing that brings memories to mind and gasps of amazement. The Russian Trio (Massimo Margaria, Joseph Skelton and Laurynas Vėjalis) totally pull this off, and the circles of red flowers in that quintessential of all waltzes, the Waltz of the Flowers, here named as Pohutukawa Flowers, draw the eye but somehow lack clarity and cohesion, and the spun sugar magic is lacking.

There is a big tour ahead and rather like the production of the Wizard of Oz a few years ago, the tickets are pre-sold on the expectation of a storybook dancing treat. Large audiences will see the RNZB and ballet, so I wish the tour well and hope the magic sparkles and the steps settle in, that opening night nerves abate, and this favourite of ballets is once again a chance for us all to dream a little.


Editor November 16th, 2018

Here is a link to Deirdre Tarrant's chat with Jesse Mulligan: her tribute to Douglas Wright and her review of The Nutcracker.

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