The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu, with ballerina Désirée Ballantyne, animations by Yeast Culture, and choreography by Jenna Lee. Photo by Mark Allen

Blending a piano rendition of Tchaikovky’s romantic melodies with 35,000 digital images and a live ballerina THE NUTCRACKER AND I produces a purely enjoyable and magical creation. Having both a world renowned concert pianist and ballerina performing against constantly changing colourful backgrounds and characters is a sublime and enchanting experience.

The production of THE NUTCRACKER AND I is quite beautiful but an unusual format. Images are projected onto a see-through black gauze screen at the front of the stage. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu and ballerina Désirée Ballantyne are illuminated behind the screen. The images tell the classical Nutcracker story. Snow is falling as the Silberhaus family decorates their Christmas tree. The magician and toymaker Drosselmeyer arrives. Presents are exchanged including a nutcracker. Clara’s dream that night includes the nutcracker fighting with the Mouse King before being transformed into a prince. The familiar story continues with matching images, both static and dynamic, on screen.                                              

In the process the cartoon Clara is replaced by the ballerina who dances with the various cartoon characters. She dances with various projections including the Sugar Plum Fairy, with shepherdesses, flowers, the Chinese characters bringing tea and candy canes. Désirée Ballantyne’s dancing is exquisite and expressive. She tells the story with grace and playfulness. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu also occasionally interacts with the digital projections and at one point accepts a cup of tea from a Chinese character, drinks it and casually throws the empty cup away.

Alexandra Dariescu performs various arrangements on the Steinway grand piano of Nutcracker favourites. The beautiful sounds fill the hall and form an integral part of this combination of music, dance and images. As I was watching this I wondered if Edgar Degas were alive today, instead of painting and sculpting ballerinas would he be creating digital images of ballerinas for multimedia installations?!

All contributors to this wonderful production are to be congratulated: performer, pianist and producer Alexandra Dariescu; director Nick Hillel; art director and director of animation Adam Smith; choreography (live and nimated) Jenna Lee; ballerina Désirée Ballantyne; technical producer Sander Loonen; video design by Yeast Culture and images by Nigel Norrington.

THE NUTCRACKER AND was performed at the City Recital Hall on 19th January, part of the 2019 Sydney Festival.