Christmas countdown begins

clara

Karla Doorbar, who was Clara in the second performance of this season's The Nutcracker, dancing through the falling snow. Pictures: Bill Cooper

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

*****

IT’S 24 years since Sir Peter Wright gave his new production of Tchaikovsky’s classic festive ballet to Birmingham to mark the arrival of Birmingham Royal Ballet in the city and it is a gift that just keeps on giving.

While the festive season might start in September sunshine as far as some shops are concerned, in Birmingham, Christmas arrives with The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome.

From the moment Dr Stahlbaum, played by BRB ballet master Domini  Antonucci, welcomes guests to his plush home for a Christmas Eve party, you can almost taste the mince pies and mulled wine.

Laura Purkiss makes a lovely Clara, the innocent ballet student with the dreamy imagination, while Benjamin Sears is a real, petulant younger brother Fritz, the sort of kid you are glad is not yours. His wicked smile of pure small boy evil as he broke Clara’s nutcracker doll is priceless.

Valentin Olovyannikov gives us that haughty Drosselmayerflamboyance, with a hint of mystery we have come to expect of the magician Drosselmeyer who produces automatoms Harlequin and Columbine, danced by Jonathan Gaguioa and Laura-Jane Gibson, from empty boxes and then releases a Jack-in-the box, danced by Lewis Turner, as part of the party entertainment before handing out presents to the children, including Clara’s nutcracker.

When Fritz pulls the doll’s head off we see the magic powers of Drosselmeyer as he joins head and body together again without touching them, but if that was clever the next piece of illusion is real magic.

These days we are surrounded by computer graphics, 3D and video effects but if you want to see real stagecraft the transformation scene as designer John Macfarlane’s wonderful Christmas tree set is still one of the finest and most dramatic scene changes in modern theatre.

As Clara comes back downstairs at midnight when all the guests have left and family and servants are in bed, the clock chimes midnight and the Christmas tree and the set magically grow to enormous size, making huge demands on the skill of the faultless stage crew.

Valentin Olovyannikov as the magician Drosselmeyerr

Making the Christmas tree magically grow in turn shrinks Clara until she is the same size as her nutcracker doll  played by César Morales.

Before the introductions though the nutcracker first has to fight off King Rat, played by Brandon Lawrence, and his rat army - with a bit of help from Clara who lays King Rat out with a hefty whack around the ears with her shoe. A girl not to cross methinks.

With the rats and their comatose King banished back into the fireplace our brave soldier is transformed into that staple of ballet - a handsome prince

First performance was a bit heavy on the smoke from the giant fireplace, an example of David Finn’s excellent lighting, glowing like the gates of Hell as the rats flooded out to attack Clara, which meant the action was in a bit of a fog but that was a simple thing to put right.

We also get a second transformation from the giant Christmas tree into the land of snow - with a realistic snow fall - and then Clara crossing the stage aboard a flying swan – which raised a round of applause. In truth Macfarlane's superb design for The Nutcracker is worth its own curtain call.

The second act sees Drosselmayer stage a grand entertainment to mark Clara’s bravery against the rat invasion, which is a chance for party pieces with a Spanish Dance from Samara Downs, William Bracewell and Jonathan Caguioa, and the sensuous Arabinam Dance with Delia Mathews, recovering rat Brandon Lawrence, Luke Schaufuss and Edivaldo Souza da Silva

Humour comes with a Chinese Dance with James Barton and Kit Holder jumping around while with a hint of Cossacks we had Alexander Bird, William Beagley and Feargus Campbell in a lively Russian Dance before the Dance of the Mirlitons  by Karla Doorbar, Jade Heusen, Miki Mizutani and Yaoqian Shang

Waltz of the Flowers then leads into a classical ballet finale with its symphonic themes starting with the Waltz of the Flowers with Arancha Baselga as the Rose Fairy and ending with the rather lovely grand pas de deux with Morales and Elisha Willis as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Drosselmayer's transformation of dance student Clarai nto the ballerina she had always wanted to be.

The pair dance beautifully together. Morales is not entirely convincing as the military leader of his toy soldiers in his nutcracker role, but once demobbed and back in civvy street he shows what a fine dancer he is.

And the other star of the production is the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Paul Murphy who, as always, make Tchaikovsky’s glorious music come alive.

If you have never seen The Nutcracker you are missing a treat, a treat that has grown into a favourite Christmas tradition, and, if you have never seen a ballet then this is a good one to start for all ages from grandchild to granddad..

 There is just nothing quite like live theatre, and this is simply pure theatrical magic, a magic that needs no keyboard or screen, just an imagination.

Sumptuous sets, a visual feast, that wonderful music and delightful dancing from the cast as Clara finds her nutcracker prince – Christmas has arrived. To 13-11-14

Roger Clarke

28-11-14 

 

 

 

Fabulous entertainment

*****

HAD Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood been in the first night audience of this masterpiece of a ballet he would surely have rated it ‘fab-u-lous’.

Sir Peter Wright’s production has become as much a part of the build up to Christmas as letters to Santa, yet it manages to look as fresh, exciting and even breathtaking as ever.

New dancers join the cast, of course, but the dramatic scenery, stunning costumes and Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable music are unchanged, creating a visual splendour.

The world premiere of the production was staged at the Hippodrome in December 1990, and the fact that it continues to attract such huge support speaks volumes for its entertaining value.

Karla Doorbar gives a superb performance as 15-year-old Clara, a ballet student, who creeps downstairs after a family Christmas Eve party and witnesses an amazing transformation, with the Christmas tree expanding to an enormous size and the Rat King emerging with his fearsome horde from the glowing fireplace to fight the toy soldiers.

The young girl is transported to the Land of Snow, created by the magician, Drosselmeyer (Jonathan Payn), flies across stage on a giant goose and dances with the handsome Prince, superbly played by Joseph Caley.

Karla also joins wonderful dancers from other countries, while Caley and the delightful Momoko Hirata (Sugar Plum Fairy) are cheered for their remarkable dancing in the second act.

Directed by David Bintley, with Paul Murphy conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, The Nutracker runs to December 13. It’s a cracker.

Paul Marston

28-11-14 

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