The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2015

This Christmas sees the Royal Ballet reviving Nutcracker — absent last year in favour of Don Q and Alice — in the Peter Wright production that has been with the Company for over thirty years. Yet it still looks entirely fresh, as did the dancers on opening night with Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell making a delightful partnership as Clara and the Nutcracker, and Gary Avis a magical Drosselmeyer.

All images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

All images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

At the start we see Drosselmeyer in his workshop comparing his toy Nutcracker with a portrait of his nephew Hans-Peter, now maliciously transformed into the Nutcracker Doll. To lift this necromancy he must slay the Mouse King, which he finally accomplishes after Clara saves his life by clobbering the monster with her shoe. Then at the very end, the newly transformed Hans-Peter finds his Uncle Drosselmeyer and they embrace.

Drosselmeyer and Nutcracker

Drosselmeyer and Nutcracker Doll

In the meantime we are treated to a glorious stage spectacle that reflects E.T.A. Hoffmann’s mixture of the real and imaginary worlds by having Clara and Hans-Peter join in the Act II dances, apart from the Arabian dance where Olivia Cowley showed graceful mystery and fine precision. Superb dancing all round in these divertissements with notable power from Luca Acri and Tristan Dyer in the Russian dance, to say nothing of the wonderful poise and huge finesse of Iana Salenko and Steven McRae as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince. They were wonderful together, as usual.

In the Act I party scene the energy of the children and Avis’s excellent stage presence as Drosselmeyer brought magic to this family gathering of guests and mysterious dolls: Harlequin (Fernando Montaño), Columbine (Elizabeth Harrod), Soldier (James Hay) and Vivandière (Fumi Kaneko). After the guests have left they reappear and vanish again, before the vast expansion of Christmas tree and doll’s house lends an Alice in Wonderland quality to the scene.

Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince

Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince

By this time the clock has already struck, and the essence of time returns in Act II when Drosselmeyer taps his watch during the grand mazurka that ends the divertissements. The charmed world vanishes, leaving Clara sleeping on the floor while he disappears into the clock. Magic — with super dancing only spoiled by occasional heavy-handedness from Boris Gruzin in the orchestra pit, particularly during that glorious moment when the Nutcracker transforms into Hans-Peter. If this was due to a lack of rehearsal time one hopes it will improve as the run progresses.

Performances continue with various casts until January 14, with a live cinema relay at 1 pm on December 16 — for details click here.

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