Holiday season starts with ‘The Nutcracker’ dance

Ballerina Lucille Plumbe and Joel Kioko (right) performing in “The Nutcracker” at the Kenya National Theatre last year. PHOTO | COURTESY/LINETTE STEPHENS
Ballerina Lucille Plumbe and Joel Kioko (right) performing in “The Nutcracker” at the Kenya National Theatre last year. PHOTO | COURTESY/LINETTE STEPHENS 

A setting with a giant Christmas tree, toy soldiers in a battle with mice, fantastic places and events and a beautiful musical score from one of the greatest composers of all time, provides the surest sign that the holiday season is here.

Dance companies around the world are currently performing their renditions of the ballet “The Nutcracker” and here in Nairobi, the Dance Centre Kenya will stage their annual celebration of the holidays with the premiere of the masterpiece at the Kenya National Theatre this weekend.

The Russian-born American choreographer, George Balanchine’s ballet, regarded as his finest work, is set to music by the Russian composer, Pytor Tchaikovsky.

The composer made a selection of eight of the more popular pieces, what is currently known as the Nutcracker Suite, Op, 71a, before the ballet’s premiere in 1892.

Balanchine is celebrated for his imagination and originality in creating a fusion of modern concepts with classical ballet.

He wrote: “A ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle, not the story, is the essential element. It is the illusion created that convinces the audience, much as it is with the work of a magician.”

“The Nutcracker” is a complex theatrical ballet and its popularity has made it a staple of the holiday season around the world.

The characters, the Stahlbaum children, Marie and Fritz, Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician who drives the entire plot, and his nephew are introduced in the first act of the ballet.

The transition from reality into fantasy occurs at the end of this first act with the Snowflake Waltz while the transformation takes place with the entry into the Land of Sweets ruled by the Sugarplum Fairy in the second act.

International guest performer Scott Spivey, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer (Joffrey is a world-class ballet company and dance education organisation based in Chicago) will perform the role of the Sugar Plum’s Cavalier.

Singer and songwriter Eric Wainaina and Joseph Wairimu, star of the 2012 film “Nairobi Half Life’’, will share the role of Herr Drosselmeyer.

For Aartistic director, Cooper Rust, and her cast, this will be the second production of “The Nutcracker” following last year’s full-length production of the ballet.

The December 2015 production that was also at the Kenya National Theatre featured a multicultural cast of dancers aged four to 17 years, students from Dance Centre Kenya and guest performers from Kibera.

Joel Kioko, who partnered with Lucile Plumbe for the leading roles last year, has returned home from his studies in the US to perform the Spanish “chocolate” dance.

Sixteen-year-old Kioko who grew up in the Kuwinda slum in Nairobi has been mentored by Mr Rust and is currently attending professional training for ballet skills and techniques with the Columbia Music Festival Association in the US.

Dance Centre Kenya was established in January 2015 with the professional American ballerina Mr Rust as artistic director.

With international level classes for dancers ranging from those as young as two in the Junior Company up to the Senior Company of 11 years and above, students learn ballet, tap, jazz, musical theatre and contemporary dance.

The ‘‘Nutcracker’’ cast also includes scholarship students from Kibera who are now part of the pre-professional training programme at Dance Centre Kenya, including George Okoth dancing the ‘‘Nutcracker’’ himself.

Meanwhile, with the festive season upon us, the Nairobi Music Society Choir will perform their Christmas concert at the All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi this weekend.

The two-hour concert programme contains a variety of 14 pieces, accompanied by the Nairobi Orchestra, others with organ or percussion or a capella.

Among the concert highlights are Felix Mendelssohn’s famous Christian anthem “Hear my Prayer” based on the biblical text from Psalm 44, featuring the well-known solo ‘O for the wings of a dove’.

The performance will also include several choruses from one of the most frequently choral works, George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” and “Te Deum” (A Song of the Church) together with the Cavina School Choir.

The choir will also perform traditional spirituals, African Christmas pieces and arrangements of carols for choir, organ, and brass ensemble, all of which should be a joy for the audience to join and sing along.

The Nairobi Music Society Choir, accompanied by the Nairobi Orchestra, will be conducted by the familiar figure of Levi Wataka, with Joshua Harper on organ.