Lisa Bernhardt is charmed by the Royal Ballet’s opulent rendition of The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House.
As a piece of art, The Nutcracker needs little introduction. Based on Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffman’s novella, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the story of young Clara, who is gifted a nutcracker by her godfather Drosselmeyer for Christmas and swept away into the magical world of the sugar plum fairy, is as gorgeous as it is timeless. It creates a beautifully nostalgic feeling of the magic and excitement that Christmas evokes in children, with just the right amount of kitsch to make it enjoyable for all ages. Then there is, of course, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s truly immortal music, famous even beyond the world of ballet, as well as the set design by Julia Trevelyan Oman, who created an uber-Christmassy feast for the eyes with her luxurious interpretation of a mid-19th century German town house, glistening winter landscapes, and the sparkling Sugar Garden in the Kingdom of the Sweets. Although The Nutcracker has been performed nearly 500 times by The Royal Ballet, it is safe to say that the ballet has stood the test of time since its premiere in 1892, and will not lose any of its charm in the century to come.
This particular production of The Nutcracker was first created and choreographed by Peter Wright in 1984, and whilst there is no doubt about its visual opulence, the choreography feels a little reserved in places. Anna Rose O’Sullivan as Clara and Marcelino Sambé as Hans-Peter/ The Nutcracker bring a sweet, youthful energy to the stage that perfectly conveys the blossoming feelings between the two young lovers. Similarly, character artist Gary Avis as Drosselmeyer captivates the audience’s hearts as soon as he enters the stage in his sweeping cape. A particular highlight are the students of the Royal Ballet School, aged 9 at most, in various roles as children, mice, toy soldiers, and gingerbreads; all of them are clearly gifted dancers that have acquired an impressive technique at a young age, so it won’t come as a surprise if we see many of them dance the leading roles in the future.
The corps de ballet is strong as always, despite evoking some involuntary thoughts in regards to the persistent whiteness of ballet as an art form during the snowflake scene. The company also frames the lead dancers as beautifully as it dances on its own. Another highlight of the show are Vadim Muntagirov as the Prince and the great Marianela Nuñez as the Sugar Plum Fairy, although it is their choreographies that feel a little restrained. Whilst flawlessly delivered, the Grand Pas de Deux and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance don’t fully tap into their capacity to be more energetic and show off the dancers’ virtuous skills, which is a real shame. However, it doesn’t depreciate the quality of the ballet as a whole.
Much has been written about The Nutcracker over the many years it has existed, and there isn’t much new to be added to this season’s run of The Royal Ballet. It remains a popular ballet that delights dance lovers of any age, and is THE ultimate treat for anyone who is feeling Christmassy and hoping to get into the festive mood, year in and year out. Here’s to the season in 2019!