Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Original Choreography: Sir Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov, Vincent Redmon
Additional Choreography: David Bintley, Marion Tait
Reviewer: Daljinder Johal
It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel for a classic ballet like The Nutcracker. But Sir Peter Wright’s 1990 production doesn’t need to when it’s just so magical. Since Wright gifted it to Birmingham, the scale of this annual production never fails to enchant and entrance thanks to clever set design, lavish costumes and of course, the impeccable dancing of 60 dancers telling the story of Clara travelling to an enchanting winter wonderland with a handsome prince.
Wright’s opening is notable for its domesticity, sharing the full warmth of a family by the fireside. Their household, adorned with decorations and a grand Christmas tree looks cosy and inviting with deep reds offset by hints of mossy green and the golden glow of candles twinkling. Mirroring an audience of young and old alike, it’s not difficult to see why The Nutcracker is a hit with families. All generations dance wonderfully together, charmingly started off by Rory Mackay as a shaky, but enthusiastic Grandfather.
However, this world-renowned performance of The Nutcracker satisfies repeat spectators with its attention to detail. A fond look of affection between Dr Stahlbaum and his wife bring a smile to the viewer. Elsewhere, laughs and squeals abound in the Hippodrome as Jonathan Payn as the magician Drosselmeyer, makes a rat scurry about the stage. It’s a fun production, though it’s a shame that Drosselmeyer’s first scene is perhaps his only memorable one. His later lack of mischief makes it a struggle to remember him, which is a troubling weak point in a production that seeks to follow the original 1892 storyline.
The Nutcracker inspires more awe as a team of around 50 engineer the huge transformation of the Christmas tree and fireplace to tower over a startled Clara. John F. Macfarlane’s spectacular set designs really are key to the show’s efficacy in convincing the audience that the painterly cerise blooms really are part of the Land of Sweets. The room even feels colder as the 75kg of artificial snow falls on Samara Downs’ Snow Fairy. Yet nothing beats the opening of Act Two. Audible gasps accompany the heroine as the curtain opens to reveal her travelling to a magical land and across the stage in a flying goose. Clever layering of clouds create an astounding realism to offset the delicacy of the goose’s wings.
Karla Doorbar, and Céline Gittens give excellent performances as Clara and The Rose Fairy respectively but it’s Momoko Hirata as The Sugar Plum Fairy who truly amazes. In the final Grand pas de deux, she demonstrates a wonderful expressiveness even with the slightest movement of her hand. With her Prince, César Morales, their synchronicity is so effortless that they can finish a spin and stop together as if one person. Hirata’s fleet-foot with Morales’ majestic and noble demeanour is the perfect complement to Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s iconic score.
With months of preparation, it’s unsurprising that the technical aspects, from dancing to design are so faultless. On the other hand, The Nutcracker is arguably considered the one classical ballet without much of a story. Nevertheless, even the most world-weary adult occasionally wants to feel the childlike wonder so associated with this time of year. By travelling with Clara to an otherworldly icy land, this production of The Nutcracker allows you a few hours to do just that.
Runs Until 13 December 2018 | Image: Bella Kotak