The festive season sometimes loses it’s shine, which isn’t surprising considering all the office parties, secret Santa joke gifts to be bought, and the rising cost of travel to go home for the holidays. It’s hard not to bah humbug your way through December. The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker this year on opening night was a perfect Christmas confection that brought the focus back to the magic of the holidays and started off the festive season exactly right. With a swoop of Drosselmeyer’s cape and a sprinkle of glitter the holiday spirit was instantly revived.
Though this was my first ever Nutcracker of all time besides seeing it on TV I knew the basic story but every production has it’s own unique take on this tradition. The staging and plot of Peter Wright’s Nutcracker is as sweet as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Gary Avis’s definitive Drosselmeyer is the thread that connects the whole story as he acts as a guide for both Clara and the audience. The journey begins in a workshop where magician and toy maker Drosselmeyer is lamenting the magical spell placed on his nephew Hans Peter, who has been turned into a Nutcracker by the Queen of the Mice. He sets off to a Christmas party with the Nutcracker, hoping that Clara will help him break the spell.
Francesca Hayward bourreed her way into the audience’s hearts as Clara from her first step on the stage. Her affection for her Nutcracker doll rang true, as did her heartbreak and joy when the doll was accidentally broken and then put back together again. Special mention to the wonderful dolls during the party scene, whose solos were spectacular. Fumi Kaneko and Jame Hay as Vivandiere and Soldier were especially exciting.
Clara sneaks downstairs after the guests have departed and Drosselmeyer appears again with a flash of his cape and begins to work more extraordinary magic as the Christmas tree grows larger and the toy soldiers and mice start to arrive on the scene. Their fight was a real highlight, with the mice being carried off on the stretchers getting a good laugh from the audience. Nicol Edmond’s Mouse King was scary and definitely enjoyed the melee and chaos he created as he jetéd around Clara and her Nutcracker. Clara helping the Nutcracker to defeat the Mouse King with her pointe shoe was a lovely touch.
The Nutcracker is transformed back into Hans Peter upon the defeat of the Mouse King, and he and Clara find themselves in The Land of Snow in the midst of The Snowflake Waltz. The Snowflakes were pure delight, with softly falling snow drifting down on the (very) blonde ballerinas as they shimmered and glittered with precision, weaving beautiful patterns across the stage.
Act II opened with a huge blanket of atmospheric smoke on the stage as angels skated across and our two leads were ushered in on a sleigh driven by an angel to the Kingdom of Sweets. The audience gets their first glimpse of Iana Salenko as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Steven McRae as her Prince. A very established partnership by this point in the season, this was the best performance I have seen them give together. I can confirm that Mcrenko are a really special partnership, and their performance on this evening indicated we should expect great things from their outing in Giselle next season.
All of the national dances were really wonderful, and it was great to see Clara and Hans Peter join in the fun and participate in the dances instead of just sitting and enjoying the spectacle. Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell were on stage for essentially the entire duration of the whole ballet, dancing for most of it, and though they must have been absolutely exhausted they never slipped out of character and their dancing remained fresh and exciting with beautiful partnering. A few standout dances were the Arabian Dance with a slinky and sultry Olivia Cowley, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers with Yasmine Naghdi leading the way as the Rose Fairy, dainty and delicate. The Grand Pas de Deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince sparkled, the only fault I could find being that this meant that the ballet was coming to an end.
The concoction of the classic Tchaikovsky music and absolute commitment from the cast makes this one extremely special ballet, bleach blonde wings aside. The costumes were also absolutely scrumptious and stunning. The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker is on at the Royal Opera House until 14 January, it is also being screened live to cinemas on Wednesday 16 December.
Featured Image Credit: © 2015 ROH. Photograph by Tristram Kenton