Karla and rats Karla Doorbar as Clara fighting off the rats. Pictures: Bill Cooper

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

SIR Peter Wright, celebrating his 90th birthday, summed up the opening night of BRB’s Christmas season of his Nutcracker perfectly – sensational.

The ballet was Sir Peter’s gift to Birmingham when the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet moved from London to become the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1990 and 26 years on it is as fresh and sumptuous as when it was created by Sir Peter, then artistic director and now director laureate of the company.

It is debatable whether any company these days would contemplate the cost of producing such a lavish production, the sets and costumes from John Macfarlane are just magnificent, a masterpiece of the theatre designer’s art with brilliant stage transformations which even in these days of CGI with everything are still breathtaking.

Then there is the music, the symphonic score from Tchaikovsky full of familiar melodies, played beautifully, as always, by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Nicolette Fraillon, the chief conductor of The Australian Ballet since 2003, and only woman music director of a ballet company in the world.

Peter Wright’s celebrated BRB production is also an established part of The Australian Ballet’s repertoire so she is no stranger to the score and she will be guesting on 10 of the 26 performances.

Beautiful music, wonderful set, charming story and we haven’t even got to the dancing, which was exceptional. This was Sir Peter’s 90th birthday present from the cast – and it showed with an energy and enthusiasm that was infectious.james barton

The Nutcracker is unusual in full length classical ballets in that it is packed with solo and small ensemble parts which gives the rising stars of a company the chance to shine.

And positively glowing was first artist Karla Doorbar who was a delight as the ballet student Clara, giving an air of young innocence and dancing quite beautifully. One to watch.

James Barton in the Russian Dance. Picture: Roy Smiljanic

Artist Aitor Galande and first artist Lewis Turner amused with the precision Chinese dance while soloist Arancha Baselga impressed as The Rose Fairy.

Soloist James Barton, first artist Max Maslen and artist Alexander Bird had the high energy job in the Russian dance, which must be an exhausting few minutes with more than a hint of Cossack about it, while first artists Ruth Brill, Reina Fuchigami, Jade Heusen and artist Emily Smith were notable as the Mirlitons.

Barton was also the Nutcracker doll in the battle with the king of the rats danced by Yasuo Atsuji.

Among the principals Céline Gittens exudes sensuality in the Arabian dance while Samara Downs is imperious as The Snow Fairy.

The story is simple. It is Christmas Eve at the home of Dr Stahlbaum where guests are entertained by a magician Drosselmeyer, danced by Jonathan Payn, and his assistant, danced by Barton again, who seems to pop up everywhere.

Drosselmayer, hands out presents, including a Nutcracker doll for Clara, and provides entertainment in the shape of dancing dolls Harlequin, danced by Kit Holder and Columbine, danced by Maureya Lebowitz, and a Jack-in-the-box danced by Tzu-Chao Chou, watched by children from Elmhurst School for Dance, the boys providing enjoyable mischief.

The guests depart, the family go to bed and daughter Clara creeps downstairs in the darkness and momoko and josephas midnight strikes the magic begins with a stage transformation which 26 years on is still spectacular thanks to well-rehearsed precision timing by the excellent stage crew.

Her Nutcracker and her brother Fritz’s toy soldiers have to battle the rats and their king who swarm from the fireplace before Drosselmayer takes Clara to the Land of Snow and the adventure begins.

Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Joseph Caley as the Prince

The second act opens with Clara arriving to applause in another special effect to land in a fantastic land where Drosselmayer becomes the MC of a dances from around the world leading up to Clara transforming into the Sugar Plum fairy, the ballerina she dreams of becoming, while her nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince.

And that brought BRB’s own MoJo to the fore with Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley. Momoko is a wonderful dancer, dainty, delicate, precise with such quick feet while we have seen Joseph Caley mature over the years.

He has always had the technique and talent but has added the ability of the best dancers to make everything he does look quite effortless, even easy. The pair dance beautifully together and their Grand pas de deux is a highlight among so many memorable moments.

Their dance heralds another transformation as Clara’s world disappears and reality returns and she awakes at the foot of her Christmas tree with her Nutcracker doll - her dream is over.

BRB’s Nutcracker is a Christmas treat for many Midlanders, even making the start of the festive season for some, and for anyone who has never seen a ballet but wondered what it is all about, this is a perfect introduction.

The music is popular and familiar, with pieces on any Classical greatest hits album, there is plenty of variety in the dances and it is an easy to follow story for Christmas.

Sir Peter’s gift has become a tradition, as much part of Birmingham’s annual festivities as a Christmas tree and lights, as a well-known lager might have said, this is probably the best Nutcracker in the world. Don’t miss it. To 13-12-16

Roger Clarke

25-11-16

The matinee of The Nutcracker  on Tuesday, 29 November will be another landmark for Sir Peter's production,  BRB's 500th performance!

Tickets for The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome in 2017 are now on sale, 24 November to 13 December. BRB

samara

Samara Downs as The Snow Fairy

More festive fare

***** 

HOW fitting that Sir Peter Wright celebrated his 90th birthday on opening night of the latest Nutcracker which seems better than ever.

The former artistic director of the BRB created this sumptuous ballet as a gift to Birmingham in 1990 when the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet moved to the city, and it has been a huge success story.

On Friday night it was the company’s turn to hand Sir Peter a gift with a truly magnificent version of a story that has become a traditional warm-up to Christmas in the West Midlands, and it’s difficult to imagine anything replacing it as it approaches its 500th performance.

Once again the quality of dancing, costumes and scenery is breathtaking, while Tchaikovsky’s music played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Niolette Fraillon, musIcal director of the Australian Ballet, is a joy.

The story opens on Christmas Eve at Dr and Mrs Stahlbaum’s home where they are entertaining guests at a party, and their ballet student daughter, Clara, receives the gift of a wooden nutcracker in the form of a soldier, and when, unable to sleep later she creeps downstairs at midnight to start a fantastic journey in the care of the magician, Drosselmeyer (Jonathan Payn)

The eye-popping events begin with the family Christmas tree soaring to an enormous size, followed by the fireplace expanding and giant rats, led by their king (Yasuo Atsuji), bursting from the fames to battle with the toy soldiers

Clara, superbly played by Karla Doorbar, provides a spectacular opening to the second act, flying across stage on a giant snow goose to arrive in a fantastic world conjured up by Drosselmeyer, and she joins remarkable dancers from several countries, including the nutcracker, now a Prince.

Joseph Caley excels as the prince, dancing superbly with Momoko Hirata whose performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy is memorable, earning bursts of applause and cries of ‘bravo’.

Happy birthday, Sir Peter, and many thanks for this unforgettable, everlasting gift to the city and the people.

Paul Marston 

Index page Hippodrome BRB Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre