As the end of term blues start to hit, and deadlines become more imminent, spending an afternoon at the theatre felt like it should be the last thing on my mind. However, there is something to be said for The Nutcracker in the festive season, the magic it can bring, and the complete escapism it allows for. I can give nothing but praise for this beautiful performance.
As the lights dimmed, and Tchaikovsky’s score rose, the anticipation in the cinema was palpable. The Orchestra of The Royal Opera House, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, played the famous pieces wonderfully, with every tremolo in the violins and every trill in the woodwind section being ideally placed to send goosebumps down the audience’s backs. They were well rehearsed, emotionally charged and utterly magical. The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy would hardly be the same without the celesta.
Something must also be said for the dancer’s technique. The whole cast, from the children still training in ballet school to the principles of the company, were incredibly well prepared, disciplined and accurate in their work. Anna Rose O’Sullivan as Clara is the best example of this, a dancer whose progressed from the Royal Ballet School to the company and offered a technically perfect pas de deux with Marcelino Sambé as The Nutcracker. Typically, male roles in traditional ballets can be seen as purely supportive, making the women look more elegant in their lifts, turns and arabesques. However, both Sambé and Vadim Mutagirov as The Prince were outstanding in their solo moments, their leaps offering jaw-dropping moments among the audience.
While the technique held the foundations of The Nutcracker in place, it was their performance that held the stage and made the whole thing magical. Gary Avis as Herr Drosselmeyer played a massive part in this, with everything from his costume so grand that it seemed to have a life of its own to the confetti he threw from his sleeves oozing magic. Marianela Nuñez as the Sugar-Plum Fairy not only had incredible technique but held the stage in her solo exquisitely. It is clear why she is an established principle in the company, and I think some of the children watching would honestly believe that she was a real fairy.
When reading the programme for this production, I was concerned that this production was too traditional, that it wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. It felt like the Royal Ballet was just playing it safe. However, I think there is value in doing a classical, well-known production and doing it well; sometimes in trying to push for innovation, we forget how good the original can be. It was amazing to see that even in a broadcast of the production, people were crying, clapping to the performers on screen, and children running around pretending to be snowflakes in the interval. Sat there, I felt like I was seven years old again at the ballet for the first time, so enamoured with the magic of it all you almost forget reality to transport yourself with Clara into The Kingdom of Sweets.
Overall, The Nutcracker is the perfect Christmas ballet, an ideal introduction for dance for those who haven’t seen any before, and a favourite that never gets old.
If this is put you in a festive theatre mood, head to dukes-lanacster.org for more of their Christmas shows including Peter Pan and The Bolshoi Ballet’s The Nutcracker broadcast live from theatres.