The Nutcracker
 

 

Nutcracker and king rat 

The Nutcracker takes on King Rat and his army

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

The Nutcracker is ours, it belongs to us, celebrated every year, a glorious present to the city that has become the traditional herald of Christmas.

Sir Peter Wright, the then director of the newly arrived Birmingham Royal Ballet created this stunning production as a thank you for the welcome his ballet company had received from the city and for 27 years – give or take the odd Cinderella – it has been a present which carries on giving.

Children who came to those first magical performances are now parents themselves, bringing their own children to a ballet which is now part of Birmingham’s festive and cultural fabric.

And what a part it is! Familiarity makes it easy to forget just what a magnificent ballet was created by Sir Peter, who is now director laureate and, incidentally, celebrated his 90th birthday at the opening night last year.

It is widely regarded as one of the finest, if not the finest version of this classic not just in this country but internationally – and it’s ours!

It is lit quite beautifully by David Finn and John Macfarlane’s sumptuous setting would bring any company out in a cold sweat in these budget conscious days – it is that spectacular.

It also relies heavily on the stage crew with one of the most demanding and brilliant transformation scenes you will see in theatre as a Christmas tree – and a rat king’s fireplace - grow to giant size - before your very eyes, as Arthur Askey might have said it.

 

karla

Karla Doorbar as Clara. Picture: Bill Cooper

And we haven’t even got to the ballet bit yet. The story is simple. Dr Stahlbaum (ballet master Wolfgang Stollwitzer) and his wife (Delia Mathews) are holding a Christmas Eve party for their friends and their children, along with two children of their own, Fritz, danced by young Max Blackwell for the third season with convincing peevishness - the sort of child you are glad is someone else's - and Clara, who is danced beautifully by Karla Doorbar for a fourth year.

At 25 the Stoke born artist manages to portray the 15-year-old ballet student quite superbly giving us innocence and a teen girl’s sense of wonder at the world - at least in the late 1890s - along with some wonderful dancing. Incidentally, the first ballet she saw and was entranced by as a young girl was . . . BRB’s The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome. Dreams can come true.

Clara’s parents have engaged a magician, Drosselmeyer, as the evening’s entertainment and the role is danced with the necessary, flamboyant showmanship by Jonathan Payn, aided by his hyperactive assistant danced by Kit Holder.

Drosselmeyer introduces us to a collection of animated dolls with Harlequin (Max Maslen) and Columbine (Maureya Lebowitz) and a lively Jack-in-the-box (Tzu-Chao Chou) before handing out presents to the children – including a Nutcracker doll to Clara.

Everyone heads home or to bed and, as midnight strikes Clara creeps down to look at her Nutcracker – and the adventure begins – the tree and room grow and King Rat (Yasuo Atsuji) and his followers appear from the blazing fireplace to attack Clara, who is saved by the Nutcracker (Kit Holder again) and his now alive and life size army of toy soldiers.

The Nutcracker appears to have been killed in the battle but not only recovers but is transformed into a handsome prince, danced imperiously by César Morales, with a delightful pas de deux as Clara is danced into her own magical mystery tour, starting in the Land of Snow to meet The Snow Fairy (Yijing Zhang) and her attendants, the four winds and snowflakes – with real snow . . . or at least the stage equivalent falling from the flies.

swan

Swanning around: Carla flies off on her adventure

Act II opens with Clara flying across the stage on a magical swan with flapping wings to a strange land where Drosselmeyer is master of ceremonies for performances from Spanish, Arabian and Russian dancers with the crowd-pleasing Chinese dance, a little comic interlude from Aitor Galende and Hamish Scott, with a finale from The Mirlitons – and there are plenty of theories why Tchaikovsky called them that. Whatever their name Ruth Brill, Laura Day, Reina Fuchigami and Miki Mizutani danced with some style.

A highlight of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic, sumptuous score, is the Waltz of The Flowers which brings in Céline Gittens dancing The Rose Fairy with her usual imposing presence with her consorts and flowers which sees Clara realise her dream of becoming a ballerina, transforming into The Sugar Plum fairy danced quite beautifully by Momoko Hirata in a pas de deux with the now princely Morales.

This pas is not as romantic or emotive as the earlier one with Doorbar but it displays some spectacular dancing and perfect unison from the pair, dancing at its delightful best in a truly international moment with a Russian composer, Belgian conductor, and dancers from Japan and Chile.

All good things come to an end though and slowly the adventure ends, the tree and room fall back into place and Carla finds herself waking up in her living room, beneath the Christmas tree on Christmas morning with her Nutcracker doll in her hand.

A lovely Christmas tale, beautifully told and danced with a score with so many familiar melodies that it deserves equal billing to the dancing – all played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Music Director Koen Kessels.

If you have never seen a ballet then this is simple to follow and easy on both the ear and the eye and if you are a ballet lover then everything you love about ballet is tied up with a Christmas bow in Sir Peter’s glorious gift. To 13-11-17.

Roger Clarke

24-11-17

BRB

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