By Margaretta wa Gacheru (5 December 2018)
Watching Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet during December was never an annual tradition until the Dance Centre Kenya started it up back in 2015. Coincidentally, that was the same year DCK got off the ground and began training young Kenyans, some from Karen, others from Kibera in the rigors of both classical ballet and modern dance.
Last Saturday evening at Kenya National Theatre, the fourth edition of The Nutcracker was beautifully staged. And while we’ve watched every edition from the start, this year’s performance was even more dazzling than previous years. One reason for this is because the quality of dance continues to grow among the students of DCK’s artistic director Cooper Rust who also happens to be a marvelous and wholly hands-on dance instructor.
Cooper is also a former prima ballerina who’s both demanding and disciplined. At the same time, her rigor is mixed with a warm-heart and clear desire to see her students perform at their best. As such, that’s what we saw last Saturday during this year’s opening night performance.
What’s especially impressive about this year’s show is that there are a number of new dancers performing in leading roles. For instance, the child’s role of Clara is played by Lavender Orisa, a 12 year old who’s one of several scholarship students that Cooper and DCK have drawn from Eastlands who love to dance. Clara is the little girl who’s given the nutcracker doll which magically morphs into an enchanting prince (Jak Bradbury, 16) who defends her and later escorts her through magical realms where she’s made a princess and honored with a series of exotic dances.
On opening night we had the good fortune to see Cooper perform the elegant role of the Snow Queen. On other nights, including this coming Saturday (at GEMS Auditorium) and Sunday (at ISK), the Snow Queen will be performed by Stella Eising, 15, partnered with the Snow Cavalier, Lawrence Ogina, 22.
The other special feature of this year’s Nutcracker is the fabulous Nairobi Philharmonic Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score live under the able baton of guest American Conductor Jonathan T. Rush. Cooper also secured the Ghetto Classics Children’s Choir from Kibera to sing.
Finally, this year’s Nutcracker has beautiful sets and costumes as well as marvelous sound. My only regret is that the show didn’t win a Sanaa award for ‘best dance theatre’. Nonetheless, anyone who sees The Nutcracker is sure to give it their own accolade for a fabulous performance.