The Nutracker

King Rat strides out from the fireplace on to John Macfarlane's magnificent set with Clara beneath the giant tree. Pictures: Bill Cooper

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

Yule logs, wassailing, snow deep and crisp and even, robins on cards . . . and BRB’s The Nutcracker, the traditions of Christmas.

Sir Peter Wright’s magnificent gift to Birmingham in 1990 as a thank you for giving the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet a new home, and a new name, just carries on giving.

It has become part of the festive calendar of Brum and children who saw those first magical performances 28 years ago are now bringing their own youngsters to experience the wonder of Sir Peter’s vision.

And these days it seems The Nutcracker is not complete without Karla Doorbar as Clara, the young ballet student heroine of the piece. Stoke’s Karla dreamed of dancing as Clara when she first saw The Nutcracker as a child and, for her, the dream has come true and not only has she danced it, but over the years she has now made the role her own.

She dances as Clara divinely, still looking every inch a young ballet student full of teenage hopes, innocence and the dreams of youth. She has an easy, precise style which is a joy to watch.

We open at the Christmas Eve party of Clara’s father, Dr Stahlbaum (Wolfgang Stollwitzer), and mother (Delia Mathews) where we meet the magician Drosselmayer danced by Jonathan Payne, a part that demands the pizzazz of a ring master as well as the flamboyant, mysterious air of magic.

clara

Karla Doorbar flies across the stage on a giant swan as Clara

The party sees the appearance of magic dolls Harlequin, danced by Max Maslen and Columbine, danced in robotic clockwork style by Maureya Lebowitz and Tzu-Chao-Chou’s enthusiastic Jack in the box.

Kit Holder doubles as the magician’s assistant, all leaps and angular limbs, and The Nutcracker fighting the forces of evil, or at least the army of rats swarming in from the fireplace, led by King Rat  (Valentin Olovyannikov). He almost gets the girl but cracking nuts doesn’t have the same pull of being a prince and César Morales gives the role the right royal air.

His grand pas de deux with Momoko Hirata’s Sugar Plum Fairy is pure joy. This is a pairing to watch. As in opera duets the secret is not just the ability of the individuals concerned but the way they go together and this pairing was in complete harmony. Morales is athletic, elegant and a dynamic and sure dancer while Momoko is dainty, quick footed and everyone's vision of a ballerina, always a delight to watch. Together they are magic.

But before we reach that dancing climax Clara’s prince first takes her to the land of snow, ruled by the snow fairy danced by Samara Downs, then after a snowstorm and interval Clara flies on a swan to a fantastic world conjured up by Drosselmeyer.

I always find it odd that one of the great transformation scenes in theatre as the Stahlbaum’s Christmas tree becomes huge and the fireplace grows to the size of a castle entrance before your very eyes, only gets a smattering of applause, and that only occasionally these days, yet Clara flying across the stage on an animated swan on wires, a much simpler illusion, gets a rapturous reception, little short of a standing ovation.  

prince and clara

Momoko Hirata and César Morales as the Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince

Drosselmeyer is on hand as first King Rat is defeated by the prince and finally caged, then he shows he is is the flamboyant MC as he he presents a grand entertainment to honour Clara’s bravery in her battle with the rats. He introduces the Spanish dancers, Russian dancers in Cossack style, the dance of the Mirlitons and the always popular, amusing Chinese dance with James Barton and back again, Kit Holder.

Star of the dances though was the Arabian dance, which is always slow and sensuous, music to charm snakes by, except here Delia Mathews is the charmer taking the dance from sensuous to sensual, flowing like silk around her three attendants.

We also have the Waltz of the Flowers and the Rose Fairy, danced quite beautifully by Céline Gittens, all leading up to Momoko and Morales and their marvellus pas de deux. The end of their dance is the end of Clara's dream and the room returns to normal and Clara awakes on Christmas morning under the tree.

Sir Peter’s version is renowned as one of the best around, one others are judged by, and it is easy to see why. The story is simple, there is variety and Sir Peter is a skilled and internationally recognised and lauded choreographer, which is evident in all the dances, while John Macfarlane’s magnificent, sumptuous sets and costumes, and those glorious transformations along with David Finn’s lighting create a fitting platform for Tchaikovsky’s symphonic score, some of the best. most loved and most recognised music in the ballet repertoire, and all played to the usual high standards by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Matthew Rowe.

Put them all together and you have not just a Christmas treat but a ballet masterpiece. To 13-12-18

Roger Clarke

23-11-18

BRB and The Nutcracker will be returning to the Royal Albert Hall from December 28-31 after last year’s spectacular season.  

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