Festive magic filled the air at the Royal New Zealand Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker last weekend.

Spellbinding visuals, technical excellence on the part of the dancers, and a flawless live performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra combined to offer a treat for all ages.

Saturday's matinee show at Wellington's Opera House was sold out — a testament to the beloved status of one of the most famous ballets of all time, based on the story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by E.T.A Hoffmann.

Hordes of children in sparkles and finery sat as enthralled as the adults accompanying them, demonstrating the ageless appeal of this all-time favourite.

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Beginning on Christmas Eve in the workshop of Drosselmeier, a clock and toymaker, the story tells the tale of Marie, who dreams that the strange nutcracker doll her uncle gives her for Christmas turns into a handsome prince.

As she sleeps after her parents' Christmas ball, a surreal dreamscape emerges, where a fierce battle takes place against a terrifying Mouse King and his entourage of steampunk-style mouse soldiers.

The battle is won, Marie is saved, and she and her prince take a magical journey through the glittering snow to the Marzipan Castle and the Land of Sweets, where a colourful and decadent celebration takes place in the home of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

The Nutcracker score, by Piotr Tchaikovsky, has been described as allowing dancers a huge range of scope in both the subtlety and fullness of their movements. The ballet premiered in 1892 at the Imperial Theatre in Russia, and has gone on to become one of the most well-known ballets of all time.

The composer, whose long and illustrious career also included the ballets Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty wrote a score that is full of musical sections that, while initially considered too 'big' or even complex for ballet, are still instantly recognisable today.

One of the most famous parts of the score is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy — a delicate and melodic tune, played by an instrument called a celesta, and emitted by many a music box over the centuries.

It was danced exquisitely by Sara Garbowski in the RNZB's 2018 version, which was choreographed by Val Caniparoli.

Garbowski was part of a cast of principal dancers who demonstrated both technicality and dramatic expression. They included Madeleine Graham as Marie, Loughlan Prior as Drosselmeier, Kihiro Kusukami as The Nutcracker, Alexandre Ferreira as the Cavalier and Nathan Mennis as the Mouse King.

The principals were joined by many young dancers, in their first major stage performance.
Over 350 young dancers have been selected across 95 schools to perform onstage with the RNZB as the company tours until December 15, including Palmerston North and Wellington.

The RNZB is partnering with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hamish McKeich, for the performances in their respective cities, with a recording used for performances in Invercargill, Blenheim, Palmerston North and Napier.

For tickets and booking information visit www.rnzb.org.nz