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The Nutcracker

Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
(2008)

Production photo

The Christmas ballet par excellence - what is there not to like? The Royal Ballet's traditional production is captivating, enchanting magical. A delicious festive fiction of how Christmas once was and can be - with St. Nicholas showering good children with bonbons - and the warmth of familial togetherness.

A ballet of two halves, the first narrative, the second pure dance with divertissements (a bit uneven in execution on the first night) - something for the whole family, even the resistant. Two hours passed far too quickly.

It appeals to young and old alike - to children, and to the child in all of us. Everyone dances, even grandparents - an inclusive occasion with no age restrictions. But, there's more to The Nutcracker than meets the eye.

The metaphysical and the fantastical of E.T.A. Hoffman's 1816 supernatural tale, first love, trial and reward, are given a subtle erotic subtext by Tchaikovsky.

His familiar expressive music (under the baton of Koen Kessels making his debut at the House) is full of wonder, joy, longing, and soulful Russian melancholy, and yet, it is worth noting that both Hoffman and Tchaikovsky admired Mozart, Hoffman so much that he changed one of his middle names to Amadeus.

If the dancing displeases (which it doesn't in Peter Wright's treasured version after Lev Ivanov and Petipa), the music transports us to secret private realms, if we dare to succumb to it. Any first night wobbles are forgiven and forgotten.

And children are wide-eyed with incredulity at the transformation scene when the Christmas tree grows like Alice in Wonderland - and the living room turns into a battlefield between toy soldiers and mice, and grandfather's wheelchair increases in size to giant proportions. Not scary at all for little ones.

Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs capture the period, the Nuremberg setting of the first act, with accuracy and wit: her angels, who move as if on casters, look like local marzipan specialities, and the confection of the second act Kingdom of Sweets is pure icing sugar and glitter, the snow flakes too.

A couple of little girls near me sighed unselfconsciously. It reminded me (again) why it was that I thought I'd gone to heaven when I first discovered ballet at a very tender age - in books first, and later in the theatre.

The students of the Royal Ballet's Upper and Lower Schools have a fine old time playing toy soldiers, mice, gingerbreads, pages, sentries and angels and children full of impish impetuosity, of course. The London Oratory Junior Choir provides the angelic voices.

Iohna Loots is delicate, light, petite, and perfect as the heroine Clara on the cusp of puberty, whilst Ricardo Cervera (definitely one to watch), as Drosselmeyer's bewitched nephew Hans Peter and The Nutcracker, acts and dances with conviction and attention.

The grand pas de deux (echoes of Sleeping Beauty) of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince is danced con brio by Miyako Yoshida and Federico Bonelli, she commanding and confident, he strong but subordinate.

Gary Avis makes Herr Drosselmeyer an unfrightening avuncular figure with Clara's best interests at heart - a magician and a guiding hand. No sinister Freudian overtones here.

The spell cast on the Nutcracker is broken by courage, love and loyalty, but the spell of the ballet stays with us like a warm glow into the night like Clara's face lit up by the realisation that she has seen Hans Peter somewhere before - in a dream maybe when she journeyed to a land far away beyond the clouds.

A PS - the Royal Opera House Collections are now online at www.rohcollections.org.uk for anyone who has an interest in its archival collections, photographs, costumes, technical equipment, or performance database - currently all works since 1946.

Until 10th January, 2009

Reviewer: Vera Liber