BWW Review: THE NUTCRACKER, Royal Albert Hall
London is already blessed with two outstanding productions of the Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. Birmingham Royal Ballet now also presents Peter Wright's beautiful version in the challenging space of the Royal Albert Hall for the second year. And what a treat it is.
There is real success in making the story clear and accessible to the whole audience, whether they are seasoned ballet goers or complete newbies. There is a Christmas eve party, where Clara receives a Nutcracker doll. As midnight comes, the doll comes to life and takes Clara on a journey to defeat the Rat King and his army and meet the Sugar Plum Fairy in her magical world.
What is less successful is Simon Callow's awkward German accent booming out over the beautiful score at several points as the voice of Drosselmeyer; it interrupts the flow of the production and the staging is clear enough to render it unnecessary.
After a slightly random start where children run aimlessly around the stage at the party, the production gets into its stride. Soloist Karla Doorbar again dances the challenging role of Clara; she is light and graceful in her movement, expressing the youthful innocence of the character. She is on stage for almost the whole production and yet maintains her poise and energy beautifully.
David Bintley's direction is well-considered and takes into account the expanse of space on the Royal Albert Hall's stage. There is no real darkness in this production, which focuses more on the magic and joy of the story. There is a lovely visual moment as all the soldiers, dolls and national figurines start to come to life. The Christmas tree does not physically grow, but highly effective projections give the illusion of growth and giant baubles descend from the ceiling in a magical moment.
It might be time to rethink the tired Chinese stereotypes, but overall the national dancers are a delight. The Arabian dancers are particularly well represented with sensuous, fluid and extremely lithe performances from Delia Mathews, Tim Dutson, Lennert Steegan and Alexander Yap.
The beautiful Waltz of the Snowflakes is designed with the effective addition of four male dancers as the Winds and The Waltz of the Flowers glitters and entrances. There is an impressive co-ordination among the company and the effect is breathtaking. Elaine Garlick's costumes are delicate and hold their own in the vast space of the hall.
Momoko Hirata and Cesar Morales also reprise their roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince. They are a stunning partnership with a near-perfect synergy: assured, poised and supremely elegant. Morales' lifts look completely effortless and Hirata is exquisitely delicate.
The supreme London Philharmonic Orchestra is placed on a raised platform above the stage, flanked by huge screens where magical projections take the audience through different worlds. Birmingham Royal Ballet's Music Director Koen Kessels conducts Tchaikovsky's beautiful score with precision and delicacy.
This is a delightful, thoughtful and imaginative production that adds another touch of festive sparkle to the season.