The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Royal Albert Hall

Nutcracker Credit: Annabel Moeller
Nutcracker Credit: Annabel Moeller
Celine rehearsal shot Credit: Annabel Moeller

Following last year’s success, Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Royal Albert Hall with Sir Peter Wright’s timeless Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. Featuring choreography from Peter Wright himself, Vincent Redmon and Lev Ivanov, with further contribution from director David Bintley, who departs the company at the end of the 2018/19 season following a 24-year tenure and assistant director Marion Tait, the two-act narrative again collaborates with actor Simon Callow as the German Voice of Drosselmeyer.

Specially adapted for the grandiose 5,272-seat concert hall, the large scale yet brief run between Christmas and New Year boasts unforgettable cinematic theatre designs, kindled by the award-winning video creatives behind the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony; 59 Productions. Alongside sets and props by Dick Bird, all vividly lit by Peter Teigen, and sound design by Bobby Aitken, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Music Director Koen Kessels conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra, all elevated above the stage, in front of the organ, heightening the impact of the production’s already supersized tableau.

The casting is consistent with last year: Stoke-on-Trent born Karla Doorbar as Clara, who has since been promoted to Soloist, together with Principals Momoko Hirata and César Morales in the roles of The Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince. Soloist Max Maslen and First Soloist Maureya Lebowitz’s commedia characters, Harlequin and Columbine, and human-sized slinky Principal Tzu-Chao Chou’s exuberant and high-voltage Jack-in-the-Box, are all noteworthy in act one’s opening party spectacle. During the battle scene, the Rat King, Soloist Valentin Olovyannikov, boldly leads an ensemble of toy soldiers and giant rats, all emerging from a wondrous scorching furnace—a visual and technical masterpiece, before the Snow Fairy, Principal Samara Downs, and her Snowflakes descend en voyage to the Land of Snow, bringing act one to a close.

The Spanish Dance—both spirited and musically cadenced, performed by First Soloist Maureya Lebowitz with Artists Gabriel Anderson and Miles Gilliver—and the contradistinctive Arabian Dance are centrepieces of the act two divertissements. The latter scenette stars Principal Delia Mathews, partnered by Artists Tim Dutson, Lennert Steegen and Alexander Yap—a meditative orchestration, exuding in strength and technical finesse.

The Rose Fairy, Principal Céline Gittens, dynamically leads the Waltz of the Flowers. Complete with sharp-eyed turns and crisp fouetté sautés, Gittens is flourishingly in command of the expansive arena. Surrounded by the corps de ballet, swirling into crisscross formations, their light-footedness, coupled by an abundance of épaulement, all shape the wizardry of this lilting number.

Principals Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy and César Morales in the role of the Prince are the epitome of act two. Their grand pas de deux regally executed, displays immeasurable togetherness in musicality and control, complete with coruscant moments: Hirata drawing up her retiré position into a seemingly immortal balance and Chilean Morales’s unblemished brilliance; his attentive partnering skills and thrilling grand allegro evenly appropriated, bring the finale to a resounding bravo.

Reviewer: Naomi Cockshutt

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