Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2017

In this beautiful and perennially popular Peter Wright production, Drosselmeyer appears in his workshop at the start, gazing at a portrait of his nephew Hans-Peter, now maliciously trapped inside the Nutcracker Doll. To escape he must slay the Mouse King, which becomes a turning point when Clara clobbers the monster with her shoe, and in a final apotheosis Hans-Peter finds and embraces his beloved uncle.

All images ROH/ Karolina Kuras

In the meantime we were treated to terrific performances by Francesca Hayward as a beautifully fresh young Clara, Gary Avis as a magical Drosselmeyer, along with the wonderful pairing of Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince, but the music on this opening night performance (a live cinema relay) did not come to life as well as it might. The orchestra seemed at times to be playing on autopilot, and this was not simply a need to beat time for the dancers because inspiration was lacking in that wonderful Act I moment where the Nutcracker turns into Hans-Peter.

Yet the dancing was marvellous, with superbly professional performances in Act I from the boys and girls of the Royal Ballet School as party guests, toy soldiers, mice, et al. Fine mechanical movements from Kevin Emerton and Elizabeth Harrod as the commedia del arte dolls that Drosselmeyer conjures out of cabinets on stage, and the same for Paul Kay and Meaghan Grace Hinkis as the toy soldier and vivandière. In this production it is they who bustle round Clara before battle commences between toy soldiers and mice, with Nicol Edmonds providing welcome masculine energy as the Mouse King.

Mouse King

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story cleverly weaves its thread from a combination of the real and imaginary worlds, and this staging brings them together in Act II as Clara and Hans-Peter (Alexander Campbell) join in the character dances, all very finely performed, with Melissa Hamilton notable for gracefulness and precision in the Arabian, and Tristan Dyer and Paul Kay bundles of energy in the Russian. Glorious dancing too from Yasmine Naghdi as the Rose Fairy in Waltz of the Flowers, and a peerless Sugar Plum pas-de-deux by Lamb and McRae.

Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier

But all good things come to an end, and as Drosselmeyer taps his watch during the grand mazurka the charmed world vanishes, leaving Clara sleeping on the floor while he disappears into the clock that struck midnight in Act I. Drosselmeyer magic — and as the run progresses I hope that Barry Wordsworth’s baton will find as much magic in Act I as he did at the end of Act II.

Performances continue with various casts until January 10 — for details click here.

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