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Review: THE NUTCRACKER, Royal Opera House

Marianela Nunez, Vadim Muntagirov, Anna-Rose O'Sullivan, James Hay, Claire Calvert, Gary Avis, Nutcracker review, Royal Ballet, Sir Peter Wright, Will Tuckett

Review: THE NUTCRACKER, Royal Opera House

IReview: THE NUTCRACKER, Royal Opera House t's December and Royal Ballet's Nutcracker is back on stage, it's almost like 2020 didn't happen, and for two magical hours, that's how it will feel.

Sir Peter Wright's beloved production has, of course, has the COVID treatment; choreography is amended to keep distance, some of the divertissements are cut, and the party scene has been pruned of additional children but the exhilarating moments are still very much intact. With the dancers of the company, eager to thrill a live audience for the first time since March (bar one-off galas), it makes for a deeply special occasion.

Indeed staging at Nutcracker in 2020 poses endless challenges, and all at the Royal Opera House should be applauded for getting it to the stage. Anyone putting on a show in the midst of a pandemic gets 5 stars from me, but let that not take away from the quality (in every sense) of this reworked classic.

The warmth of the party scene at the Stahlbaum's is still present thanks to cast members carefully bubbling so they can share a greeting and gift or two. Two energetic pairs of young dancers accompany Clara and her partner instead of the usual hoards, but it brings fresh clarity and allows us to enjoy all the individual details of everyone's performance.

Anna-Rose O'Sullivan reprises the role of Clara and will debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy later in the run. As much as we wait for that with great anticipation, her youthful looks, light, buoyant dancing with beautiful lines suit Clara so well, it'll be a shame when she graduates to the prime spot in the cast.

James Hay is a wonderful match for her, both in stature and style. His lines are neat and accurate, and he negotiates their partnership with charisma as well as demonstrating effortless partnering in the numerous catches and lifts.

Together they are radiant in the Act I pas de deux and they hit glorious heights amongst that heady swell of notes in Tchaikovsky's score. It is the first time goosebumps come and there are many more to follow. The glittering Snowflakes soon appear and fill the stage - sixteen instead of the usual twenty-four - as resplendent and well-drilled as ever.

Unable to utilise as many children as normal, there's a fresh battle scene to compensate, choreographed by Will Tuckett. In a production familiar to many, it was exciting to witness a new component comprising of soldiers and army mice, led by a rather imposing Mouse King. The visual isn't dissimilar from that seen in English National Ballet's version. It's a pacy, well-conceived addition.

All that and it's only Act One. Hard to believe the A-listers haven't even arrived yet. What hasn't already been said about Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov? Bringing their unique artistry to the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince, roles they have danced countless times.

Nunez provides the occasion with grandeur and sincerity, every turn of the head, placement of the arms is deliberate and considered. While Muntagirov delights with his serene partnering and wows us with his neat and sharp feet in his solo.

The audience reacts accordingly, and very vocally, I feel like my heart is about to burst out of my chest, to be quite honest.

A word too for Claire Calvert's distinctive and delightful Rose Fairy. The choreography is challenging for this part, and Calvert always delivers it with confidence and admirable core strength seeing her through the balances and arabesques. She displays great musicality too and is every inch the centrepiece to the "Waltz of the Flowers".

The whole production feels framed by Gary Avis' Herr Drosselmeyer, adeptly leading us through the story from beginning to end. It's a role he is renowned for and one he has refined with countless wonderful details even when he isn't the main focus on stage. He's silently there, keeping an eye on it all, ensuring we're under the spell.

The final embrace shared by him and his Nephew (the Nutcracker) takes on new significance amongst a pandemic that has seen us denied physical contact. If you don't already have a tear in your eye, you will now.

The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House until 3 January

You can watch a live stream of the performance on 22 December for £16

Photo credit: Alastair Muir

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