The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet, O2 Arena | Dance reviews, news & interviews
The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet, O2 Arena
The perfect production is left high and dry with X-Factor pixie Joe McElderry as baffling warm-up
It would always be a risk putting such a gossamer Christmas charmer as The Nutcracker into a gargantuan Mammonite cavern like the O2 Arena, where magic only counts if it rings loudly in the coffers - car park £25! programmes £10! As with the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet last June, Birmingham Royal Ballet have put up a cinema screen to enable thousands of viewers far away to catch what looks dolls-house-sized in real view. But where that other ballet is all about action and plot, this is a ballet about atmospheres and dreams, needing most delicate weaving into its setting.
If you sit in a £72 seat on the upper side close to the stage, as I did for 10 wretched minutes last night, you will see about a third of the scenery, virtually nothing of the big screen, and not a scrap of what the production can deliver. Fortunately for me, if unfortunately for BRB, there were many unoccupied spaces to enable a quick move to better positions, which rescues my review from a wholesale protest to a half-cheer.
A fullhearted cheer should be due for southerners at last having a view of this spectacularly designed Birmingham production, of sumptuous costuming, gripping visual atmosphere, and a normally fabulous transformation for the Christmas tree into an awesome corner of a giant’s pine forest, emitting fiery smoke like dragon’s breath while toy soldiers battle desperately with rats for possession of young Clara’s dream world. But if you don't sit square on, much of the punch of the designs is pulled in the arena adjustments.
No wonder BRB want to share this 21-year-old production by BRB’s former director Sir Peter Wright. It puts up all the dramatic questions that a child could ask for - will the rats eat all the toys? Is Dr Drosselmeyer a wizard? is the Nutcracker broken for ever? - and answers them all in picturesque and satisfyingly mysterious ways. We get proper magic tricks, King Rat is well caged and locked up by the soldiers (pictured below, photo Roy Smiljanic), the Nutcracker turns from a broken doll to a wounded young man whom Clara heals.
Clara’s world of fantasy is poised with tremulous attractiveness between childhood and adulthood - just as the music swings violently from cataclysmic forces to most delicate lullabies and tinkling charms, so the production pits a 16-year-old sister against a 10-year-old little brother who is purest nuisance, keeps wanting to snatch and break her stuff, slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails. Perfect. As is the balance of all the ages at the Act 1 party, from tinies to old gramps, all with beautifully crafted and individualised dances by clever Wright.
Drosselmeyer too is perfect, the handsome godfather in a magnificent cloak who makes Christmas decorations hover miraculously in air and summons a swan to fly Clara to her Act 2 dreamland, where in among all the flowergirls and exotic maidens she identifies with, are men with big muscular thighs and Byronic hair, pouncing at the girls with ardent hurdling jumps, the acme of a teenage girl’s fantasy.
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