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The Nutcracker – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Choreographers: Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redmon

‘What did the Christmas Season, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), Peter Wright gifted Nutcracker, ever do for us (suggests a suspiciously imagined voice in the sell-out auditorium tonight) – apart from the re-imagined romanticism of Tchaikovsky’s seductive score, reclaimed from Classic FM’s daytime evergreen-loop? The bedtime, fairy tale embrace of Clara’s Christmas Eve enchanted dream? The animated wizard-wand wonder of the set designs – not to mention rodents with attitudes. Apart from that?’ Before the imminent curtains-up, the disembodied sonorous tones of Carlos Acosta CBE explain exactly what’s what and why and more besides – notwithstanding a million pounds ‘Big Gift’ makeover. With Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the guiding baton of Paul ‘two harps will have to do’ Murphy,  BRB is about to go balletic ballistic.

Act 1 is very much narrative driven as The Magician’s Assistant casts his dastardly deeds afoot with definitive set pieces a wonderland agog. Set designs range from a gigantic fireplace flame-spewing rat-attacks, an extreme growth Christmas Tree, filigree icicle suspensions worthy of a Bond villain’s lair and, not least, the forced-perspective Piranesi inspired marbled columns that scoff at the sheer naivety of CGI. 

The Rat King has had his talons tungsten-tipped ready to do battle. The soldiers are boot-polished and button burnished. Karla Doorbar’s Clara is a heaven-sent casting though being immaculately contested by Yijing Zhang’s Snow Fairy. 

This makeover big time is a forever midnight sugar-plum fairy rush where dancers laugh at gravity and good triumphs over upstart rodents.

Act 2 lends more to an exuberance of pure style and invention driving the themed Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dance medley, an exploding artistic pallet of movement where the only annoyance is the restriction of three dimensions. (Rumour has it that those aren’t meteorite impact craters on the moon, just BRB aiming some lunar head-butts during grand jeté-packs warm-up exercises.)

Ridiculously irresistible with so many thoroughly modern melodies, Nutcracker is the perfect lure to those who didn’t realise how much they already love ballet for its grace, wit and athletic aestheticism. A giddy gaiety in time-frozen wonder, this production crackles along with the glow of a blazing log fire immensely pleased with itself. From gorgeous Cossacks, seductive señoritas and snowflake ensembles graceful as swans chuckling across quicksilver clouds, to being mugged by a velvet cosh of love, BRB presents an astonishing fairy tale tableau distilled from the essence of an impossible dream.

Runs Until 10 December 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A sugar-plum fairy rush

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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