Nutcracker, with Osipova and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 27 December 2013

Christmas feasting may have affected the orchestra, but certainly not the dancers in this 27th December performance.

All images ROH/ Bill Cooper

All images ROH/ Bill Cooper

The party scene in Act I was full of joie de vivre, with Gary Avis as a magical Drosselmeyer. The élan of his conjuring tricks was matched by the liveliness of Valentino Zucchetti as his assistant, and the superb dancing of the dolls he brings onto stage. In the brief vignette for the toy soldier and his girl, Kenta Kura and Akane Takada were terrific, and Elizabeth Harrod was a wonderfully doll-like Columbine, with Fernando Montaño as her Harlequin.

Avis as Drosselmeyer

Avis as Drosselmeyer

Francesca Hayward as Clara, replacing the injured Emma Maguire, was sheer delight, Alexander Campbell charm itself as her Nutcracker Prince, and the ensemble dancing by the twenty-four snowflakes was a study in perfection. Pity the orchestra couldn’t match the dancers. Martin West in the orchestra pit allowed too much laxity. As Drosselmeyer produced the little nutcracker doll, the conducting was sluggish, the build-up to the growing of the Christmas tree too lethargic, and the orchestral crescendos went out of control as the world around Clara changed size. This mediocre account of Tchaikovsky’s score in Act I greatly improved in Act II, when the brass and woodwind seemed to recover from their Christmas puddings.

Among the Act II character dances Hayley Forskitt, replacing Itziar Mendizabal, was a revelation in the Arabian dance, so firm and controlled, and the slight upset on a turn was entirely the fault of the men holding her. I look forward to her reappearance in other roles, and it is always a delight to see the fine musicality of Laura Morera, who danced the Rose Fairy.

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As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Natalia Osipova showed breathtaking control in her first solo, but her partnership with Federico Bonelli never really gelled. Some landings in his solos lacked precision, and in one of her solos she lost contact with the orchestra.

These disappointments aside, the Company was in sparkling form, and from the Amphitheatre when the canon fires in the first act the flash appears momentarily before the sound. A good reason to be up high, quite apart from being able to see the changing patterns of the 24 snowflakes so beautifully performed.

Performances with various casts continue until January 16 — for details click here.

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