Ballet is not an art form that Kenyans know very well. And if they do, they probably won’t expect to see the quality of professionalism that they will find if they go see The Nutcracker this weekend at Kenya National Theatre (KNT).
If they have been to any one of the Dance Centre of Kenya’s previous productions, they won’t be surprised to find teenagers (and even pre-teens) performing at such a high level of precision, grace, beauty and elegance that watching them perform will be a joy and privilege.
It is true that the world over, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s enchanting children’s fairy tale (based on a short story by Alexander Dumas who adapted it from an earlier story by ETA Hoffmann) has in recent years become a Christmas tradition. The Dance Centre of Kenya has also followed that tradition, having staged it for a third time at the KNT this year.
One might imagine the public would tire of this particular ballet, despite Dance Centre of Kenya having staged other ballet classics such as Giselle, Les Sylphide and Pas de Quatre. But for one thing, Tchaikovsky’s music is sublime and it’s well worth going to The Nutcracker just to listen to his marvellous music.
But what’s even more relevant is that Cooper Rust, Dance Centre of Kenya’s artistic director and choreographer of all three productions, has always revised the dance format slightly but significantly every year. As such, every performance has been fresh and also filled with a number of new dances as well as new cast members and dancers.
Cooper stays true to the basic storyline, of course. It’s essentially about a little girl named Clara (danced deftly by 11-year-old Carolina Fusillo) who has a marvellous dream. It’s about the Christmas gift she has received from her godfather (Ian Mbugua and Joseph ‘Babu’ Wairimu alternatively). It’s a nutcracker formed like a toy soldier (Shamick Otieno) that comes to life, battles the forces of evil embodied as rats led by the sinister Rat King (Silas Ouma), and gets saved by Clara’s quick thinking.
For her bravery, Clara is crowned a princess of the Royal Court in the Land of Sweets. She’s also rewarded by the Arch Angel (Kayla Hotz) with a series of exotic dances delightfully performed by Cooper’s most superlative senior dance students as well as by child dancers as young as three years old.
The story is as enchanting as is the music and the dance. One feels the production gets better every year, although this time there’s one obvious omission. It’s Joel Kioko, the young dance wonder from Eastlands who had previously played the Nutcracker and Sugar Plum Cavalier — played this year by guest artist Baris Erhan. Kioko is now studying at the English National Ballet School, having received intense dance instruction from Cooper who had seen the young man’s immense athletic and artistic potential.
Other Dance Centre of Kenya graduates who have gone to greener pastures include Annabel Shaw who’s now at the Northern Ballet School in the UK, Lucile Plumbe who’s at the Academie Internationale and Anjuli Vadera who’s at the Laban Conservatoire of Dance, also in the UK.
One other enticing addition to this year’s production was the beautiful set designs painted by student artists from Kenton, Hillcrest Secondary Schools and the Rudolf Steiner Primary School.
The opening night’s Silent Auction featuring everything from plane tickets to adult bikes was an amazing illustration of how generous the corporate community when they care to get behind an artistic production like The Nutcracker.
Congratulations to Cooper and her team which clearly elicit unlimited confidence in not only parents who have sent their children to Dance Centre of Kenya in droves since it opened in early 2015, but also the corporates that have shown how supportive they can be of the arts when they want to be.
The Nutcracker will be performed this weekend both Saturday and Sunday including matinees at the National Theatre.
Meanwhile, Heartstrings Entertainment is currently staging their latest rip-roaring comedy, Nobody is Leaving at Alliance Francaise. It runs this weekend and next. The Friday shows will be staged twice both weekends, at 6:30pm and 8:30pm. Then on both Saturdays, there will be three performances, at 3, 6:30 and 8:30. And finally, on both Sundays, there will only be shows at 3 and 6:30pm.
Last but not least, Martin Kigondu is bringing back What Happens in the Night next Saturday, December 16 at 5pm at the Daystar Valley Road Auditorium. The shows star Nick Ndeda, Chichi Seii, Bilal Mwaura, Shiviske Shivisi and Salim Gitau.