For those looking for a way to escape the stress and strain of the week, the Dance Centre Kenya (DCK) offers them a beautiful way into a world of wonder and enchantment by watching their annual performance of the Nutcracker ballet this weekend at Kenya National Theatre where the gala is Saturday.
It is also where you will see the way DCK’s Cooper Rust has transformed children into masterful mini-ballerinas.
Both boys and girls have been taught to express the grace of professionals. They have also achieved an athleticism fit for gymnasts aiming to make it one day to the Olympics.
Granted the pre-primary dancers who make sweet appearances in the show need more time to achieve the rigour and stamina of the older ones.
But even their dash across the stage while keeping time to Tchaikovsky’s majestic music is a sweet reminder that the story itself made room for little ones to be present and play their part.
The Nutcracker takes place at a time of year that we know well. Most of us tend to be busy before Christmas, if not shopping for gifts, then getting ready to go to parties that celebrate the holiday season.
The Nutcracker takes us back in time when ladies and gentlemen as well as their offspring dressed first for winter and the cold climate, but also in different fashions.
It’s in costuming that one sees no expense has been spared to dress up everyone, including the party-goers in act one, with beautiful attire — long elegant gowns with matching capes and men wearing dapper hats like the one worn by the good Herr Drosselmeyer (Henry Mwaniki).
He is the special guest of the Christmas party’s host and hostess, Herr and Frau Stahlbaum, and he has brought a magical gift to his favourite god-daughter, Clara, played by the talented 10-year-old, Keri Yamane.
It is a mysterious toy that looks like a uniformed soldier but is a device used to crack nuts, like walnut shells.
Clara adores her god-father and also his gift, which her brother Fritz (Hyogo Yamane) immediately grabs and runs away with. He envies Clara’s toy, and understandably so since he didn’t get one. But he has the potential to become a kleptomaniac.
Clara does her best to chase him and get it back. But it requires the intervention of adults to stop the stealing and return the nutcracker to Clara who sleeps with her toy. And that is when the story begins in earnest.
First, we see the toy transformed into an actual dancer-soldier (Eugene Ochieng’) who’s suddenly got a little army fit battle and win against the Rat King (Aske Ballan) and his troops of fellow rats.
Then in Act 2, Clara’s dream continues as she is swept into the mythical Land of Sweets by elegant angels. She is accompanied by the Nutcracker who is now a Prince.
She has also crowned a Princess as they journey into this vibrant space where the backdrop is heavenly and the performances that follow are international.
Clara and her Prince are given a throne to sit on as they witness dancers who perform national steps that come from Russia, China, Spain, and the Middle East.
This is also when the wee ones get a chance to reveal the way their teacher — artistic director and founder of DCK, Cooper can create graceful dancers out of pre-teens.
The original choreographer, Maruis Petipa, included a Shepherdess (Pauline Okumu) and her Lambs in the ballet. They come just before the Candy Canes and the high point of Clara’s time in the Land of the Sweets.
It is when she first gets to meet and watch the beautiful Dew Drop Fairy (Flora Liu) and then, the Sugar Plum Fairy (Pamela Atieno) and Sugar Plum Cavalier (Shamick Otieno).
Their performances are meant to be the high point of ballet. But we have been watching lovely dancing by young women and men as well as by children throughout the ballet, so it might be difficult to say which dancers are the most proficient and professional.
The point is that Cooper lifts the amateur performance into another realm altogether. The discipline that she demands from her students is rigorous and watchful. It pays off in the end.
This year, DCK has attracted Absa as its biggest sponsor but others have also come on board, knowing that ballet is a beautiful business that teaches lessons their children won’t learn anywhere else, especially appreciation of beauty, good taste, and elegance