Birmingham Royal Ballet Brings a Christmas Fairytale to Life:
The Nutcracker has been with me almost all my life. Before I’d ever seen a ballet, I was given two picture books by my aunt. Coppelia and The Nutcracker were wrapped and put under the tree for an excited five-year-old girl to open on Christmas Day. I pestered my mother to learn ballet – but as we were living in Malaysia at the time, instead I was taken to classical Indian dance lessons. It wasn’t until we were back in Old Blighty that I read Noel Streatfield’s ‘Ballet Shoes’ and went to weekly classes. The Nutcracker was the first ballet my mother took me to see – and I desperately wanted to be Clara – or for that matter, any of the other children on the stage. I probably shared that sentiment with a million little children growing up around the world. As Karla Doorbar, who plays Clara in this production of The Nutcracker said
The Nutcracker is very special to me. It was the very first ballet I saw and I can still remember the magic…at the end of The Nutcracker during the curtain calls, no matter which role I’ve dance I feel happy and proud, and I hope to have shared some of the magic of this ballet with the people watching
At the time, I believed in the Nutcracker just as firmly as I knew Father Christmas visited our house every Christmas Eve. Since then, I’ve taken my god-daughter and her little sister to the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House, first booking a box so the kids could sit on the floor and colour in pictures if they got bored, then in later years moving to the dress circle for a better view. In a curious role reversal, I even took my own mother as a Christmas treat one year. Since I’ve lived in London, though, I’ve only ever seen The Nutcracker at the Opera House. For me, the Royal Albert Hall is synonymous with the Proms – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a staged production there before. If like me, you’ve never experienced the grandeur of ballet at the Royal Albert Hall I urge you to try. You won’t be disappointed.
Whether it was clever staging and set design or just the phenomenal atmosphere of a massive venue packed to the brim with excited children in their Christmas finery and grown-ups like me full of nostalgia I don’t know. Captivating and entrancing, the whole production was simply magical. Superb lighting design made the most of the spacious stage and surrounds while the orchestra was seated on a platform above, seemingly floating over the stage. There were scatterings of contemporary effects – lights which ran through the audience drawing us into the story and magic rats that glided across the stage – but the overall production retained that ‘Victorian Christmas’ feeling, the essence of The Nutcracker. First performed in St Petersburg in 1892, it’s a ballet about a dream in which Clara’s toys come to life.
There were moments of sheer fantasy – Jack-in-the-box Tzu-Chao Chou seemed to have real springs for legs and we loved the poise and elegance of the Arabian Dance with Delia Mathews, Tim Dutson, Lennert Steegen and Alexander Yap. Drosselmeyer, performed by Jonathan Payn, was beautifully characterised with much use made of a stunning sweeping cloak. The transformation of this role into a doll-maker worked perfectly and for me, helped to make sense of the story as a whole. I loved the projected drawings of the various ‘dolls’ to either side of the stage too. Something which could have distracted, but in the grand setting of the Royal Albert Hall, worked beautifully.
By the end of the first Act, much of the audience was covered in snow too.
Clara , performed by Karla Doorbar, was an incredulous ingenue, dainty and light as a feather, while Momoko Hirata’s Sugar Plum Fairy made a stunning and controlled partnership with Cesar Morales’ elegant and refined Prince for the final pas de deux.
The Royal Philharmonic, under the direction of Koen Kessel, the Music Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, performed spotlessly.
There are just a few performances to catch if you can. If not, here’s hoping we’ll see this in London again next year.
Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Albert Hall present The Nutcracker
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Original choreography: Sir Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov, Vincent Redmon
Additional choreography: David Bintley, Marion Tait
Designs: Dick Bird
Lighting: Peter Teigen
Tickets: From £35
Booking: royalalberthall.com / 020 7589 8212
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP
Dates: Friday 28 – Monday 31 December 2018
Remaining performances Saturday 29 December, 2pm & 7pm; Sunday 30 December 1pm & 7.30pm; Monday 31 December 12pm & 4pm