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The Nutcracker – A Christmas Fairytale Ballet.
An outing to the ballet at Royal Albert Hall during the festive season has to be one of the most Christmassy things you can do. On arrival, you can’t help but marvel at the magnificent building lit up in all of its glory and the giant Christmas tree twinkling at its door.
We had come to see Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker; I was accompanied by nine-year-old Lily in what was to be her first visit to the ballet. The Nutcracker brings back fond memories of my own childhood and I knew it would be the perfect introduction to the ballet for my young companion.
Peter Wright’s beautiful version of Lev Ivanov’s original 1892 ballet is in its second year at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s an expansive space to fill but it is done to perfection and makes for a wonderful all-round experience. The phenomenal London Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by conductor Koen Kessels plays Tchaikovsky’s popular score on a platform above the stage, which is flanked by two large projection screens which brilliantly capture the feel of the piece along with Peter Teigen’s awe-inspiring lighting.
The Nutcracker is set on Christmas Eve at a party at the Stahlbaum family home in a frost-dusted Edwardian London. Clara receives a gift of a Nutcracker doll from her toymaker godfather Drosselmeyer (voice-over by Simon Callow), and her mischievous brother Fritz is given a Rat King puppet. Clara is soon to find out that her Nutcracker is no ordinary doll, and discovers it has magical powers. The puppets come to life and a battle ensues between the Rat King with his army of rats and the Nutcracker and his toy soldiers. To Clara’s amazement, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome Prince and leads her to in the Land of Snow, to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and enter a magical world of enchantment.
The sets create a visual feast and capture the wonderment perfectly with flurries of snow, giant Christmas baubles and projections which give a real sense of the growing Christmas tree whilst the mirrored backdrop creates an illusion of depth. This worked especially well in the beautiful Waltz of the Snowflakes with reflections of pure white dancers elegantly floating across the stage and beyond.
Under David Bintley’s direction, this production sparkles from start to finish, the dancers deliver deliciously delicate, exacting footwork and create effortless lines and synchronized shapes, and the coordination of big set pieces is pitch-perfect. Karla Doorba as Clara glows with natural warmth and a youthful innocence and Elaine Garlick’s costumes are absolutely breathtaking.
In Act II we are treated to dances from around the world, which Lily was very excited about. The Russian Dance was suitably exuberant whilst the Arabian Dance exuded a delectable sultriness and the Spanish Flamenco dancers and matadors brought drama and sensuality to the stage.
Momoko Hirata and Cesar Morales as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince make an explosive pairing and they execute the grand pas de deux with flawless elegant grandeur.
What it perhaps lacks is a nod to Tchaikovsky’s darker more melancholy elements of the score, one wonders what world is inhabited outside the grandeur of the Stahlbaums home.
However we walked away with smiles on our faces, having banished winter gloom and full of the delights of Christmas, and I know Lily was absolutely spellbound and brimming with wonder.
From Saturday 28 – Tuesday 31 December
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 £30
Booking: royalalberthall.com / 020 7589 8212
The Royal Albert Hall
London SW7 2AP
If you’ve missed the Nutcracker and are looking for a show, do check out our review of Onegin at the Royal Opera House by The Royal Ballet