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Sir Peter Wright's production of The Nutcracker for the Birmingham Royal Ballet is widely regarded as the best production in country, if not the world, and it is not hard to see why. John McFarlane's lavish storybook designs create a magical world in which Clara takes centre stage. We follow Clara as she defeats King Rat, travels to the Land of Snow and is transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy, the ballerina of her dreams. Whilst other interpretations of The Nutcracker struggle to maintain a compelling narrative, we share Clara's fear, delight and amazement at every turn.

John McFarlane's designs are absolutely astonishing, and surely must be the envy of every other ballet company in the world. The transformation scene, in which the magnificent Christmas tree grows and extra gigantic branches sweep in to stab through the proscenium arch, is pure theatrical magic. The audience gasp in delight and applaud instinctively as Clara opens Act 2, flying across the stage on a snow goose.

The most memorable moment of The Nutcracker is undeniably the Snowflake sequence, a reproduction of Les Ivanov's original snowflake dance by Peter Wright. The Birmingham Royal Ballet corps is at present blessed with a wealth of beautiful dancers, all breath-taking in their elegance and lyricism. Flurries of snow fall on a scene framed with delicate, frost-coated branches; as the choir begin to sing, you cannot help but feel that Christmas has well and truly arrived.

Karla Doorbar is a delight as Clara, with a clean, accurate technique and a beautiful line - it is clear why she has been chosen to make her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy this year. She particularly shines in the Dance of the Mirlitons and the Rose Waltz, with precise footwork and expressive use of her arms and back. However, her acting was not completely convincing, especially during the Act 1 battle scene. Whilst her dancing throughout Act 2 was beautiful, she did not convey the sense of awe or excitement that I have experienced in previous years.

Rarely has a role been more suited to a ballerina than the Sugar Plum Fairy is to Momoko Hirata. Her flawless technique is perfect for the crystal clear detail and quick jumps of the Sugar Plum Fairy solo, yet the lightness of her arms, and the way she melts into arabesque pénchees, means that her every movement seems utterly effortless. Joseph Caley is her perfect partner as The Prince, with an assured, confident technique and excellent pirouettes in his own solo.

A common problem facing productions of The Nutcracker is that Clara is often a mere spectator throughout Act 2. Sir Peter Wright goes a long way toward fixing this issue, as Clara is actively involved in many of the divertissements. This Nutcracker nails the tricky issue of the Arabian Dance; there are no turbans or questionable shimmying here, but rather a cool and enigmatic Delia Matthews with three athletic and courteous admirers (Miles Gilliver, Valentic Olovyannikov and Edivaldo Souza da Silva). Admittedly the Spanish and Chinese Dances both feel rather dated, and possibly offensively stereotypical, but they are kept mercifully short and are excellent executed by all.

There is so much to delight and divert the eye here, as Birmingham Royal Ballet are company on top form. Not only do they work exceptionally well as an ensemble, but there are fantastic solo performances at every turn. Tzu-Chao Chou is the perfect Jack-in-the-Box, as the wonderful concertina effect costume accentuates his trademark elevation and flexibility. Celine Gittens is charming as the Rose Fairy, and it is such a treat to see Marion Tait as the Grandmother.

This a magical, festive production, and it is clear to see why audiences flock year upon year to see Birmingham Royal Ballet in their showcase production. Ballet doesn't get any more Christmassy than this!

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From This Author Emma Cann