tue 16/09/2014

The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews

The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet

Joy from a magical kingdom of ballet

Mystery in the snow: Clara takes a sweet journey© Johan Persson/ROH

'Tis the season to be... transported to a magical, mystical extravaganza that will leave your mouth a-gasp, and your festive spirit in overdrive. This is how the lyrics of "Deck the Halls" should read once you’ve been to the Royal Opera House and savoured the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker.

The Sir Peter Wright production (1984) begins in the Stahlbaums’ house with a luxurious upper-class Christmas soiree that sees a whole host of diverse guests present. The most individual of all is Herr Drosselmeyer (Gary Avis), godfather to young Clara Stahlbaum (Meaghan Grace Hinkis) who becomes the protagonist that takes the audience from Victorian period Europe to a distant, magical kingdom.

Just when you think the spectacle can’t be surpassed, gold petals shower down from the heavens

The journey takes in a miraculous snow storm performed by the most elegant and effervescent of snowflakes. The choreography is all contradictions – with icy pictorial images interwoven within swirling, almost nauseatingly relentless circular patterns. When the snow starts to tumble over the already atmospheric scene it truly looks like the North Pole.

Once Drosselmeyer has given Clara a Nutcracker for Christmas representing his long-lost nephew Hans-Peter, the real magic begins. There are few things as breathtaking as seeing a 10ft Christmas tree grow to what seems 100ft accompanied by the lushest of lush Tchaikovsky scores; and just when you think the spectacle can’t be surpassed, gold petals shower down from the heavens.

Act Two's Kingdom of Sweets looks like the window display of the most elegant patisserie in Paris, all edible sparkle - a credit to the late Julia Trevelyan Oman’s ornate designs. The dances range from Spanish flair to Arabian sensuality - well realised by Melissa Hamilton’s pliable body - and Chinese charm to Russian panache – where Hans-Peter (Ricardo Cervera) joins the two male dancers (the highly proficient James Hay and Paul Kay) in gravity-defying leaps that land in kneels as if the most natural thing in the world.

This is a great close to the world trip and one of several excuses for the audience to revel in Cervera’s dancing that crackles with dynamism throughout. Hinkis as Clara danced capably but needs to develop her characterisation more, as at times it was lost, leaving her simply executing steps which didn’t help the narrative thread.


Above, Watch as Laura Morera leads the Waltz of the Flowers on the Royal Ballet's film

Wright’s Waltz of the Flowers is hierarchical in style with a Rose Fairy (Laura Morera) supported by four soloist couples and a corps de ballet. Morera was the epitome of floral chic – seeming to take the finicky choreography in hand and amuse herself with it, as if asking for more of a challenge, and never losing contact with her captivated audience.

The Grand pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and the prince, immortal due to the highly recognisable score, can be a tricky number to master, what with the dreaded wait until the last 20 minutes of the evening actually to get started. The pas de deux went smoothly, but the solos divided the couple, Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae. The tempo of Marquez’s felt too fast, not allowing her (or us) to luxuriate in her nimble footwork or luscious arm movements – and by the end of the closing turn sequence she looked a little dazed. McRae however continued as he’d begun – with the perfect amalgamation of composure and bravado; a winning combination.

All in all Wright’s gorgeous production should warm even the coldest of hearts this festive season. The same cast is being screened live on 13 December to 900 cinemas in 32 countries – allowing for the exquisite experience to be shared further afield. Joy to the world indeed.

  • The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker continues at The Royal Opera House until 16 January - the live cinema relay of the production is on Thursday 13 December

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