About Time You Saw: The NutcrackerBy Gilly Hopper
“I have no intention of being anything other than childish about this,” uttered the lady seated next to me.
It is in this precise mindset – one of whimsical surrender and childish glee – that you should arrive at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden for the Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
A fairytale of simple values, The Nutcracker traces a young girl’s wonderful Christmas adventure as an enchanted present leads her to new lands. Loosely based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the ballet opens with the lively Christmas party that is hosted by the Stahlbaum family, its Victorian setting captured in opulent detail by Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs. After the party, the young Clara creeps downstairs on Christmas Eve to play with her favourite present – a Nutcracker. But the mysterious magician Drosselmeyer is waiting to sweep her off on a magical adventure.
Flaws are knowingly inherent in the work but this production minimises such faults in every aspect. For one, the plot is strengthened immensely by Clara’s involvement in Act Two and in emphasizing the relationship between Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, Drosselmeyer’s nephew, Hans-Peter, the production gains a touching subtext of first love. Conducted by Paul Murphy, Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous, sugar-spun music captures the child’s view and leads us deep into a technicolor world.
Act Two’s dances present you with a flurry of famous tunes – which may be in your subconscious thanks to Disney cartoons and copious TV commercials. Perhaps the most spectacular section of The Nutcracker, the suite, begins with the overture that opens the whole ballet and then continues with The March from Act I, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Arabian Dance, Chinese Dance, Dance of the Little Flutes and the Waltz the Flowers. Contrasting speed, rhythm, style and instrumentation lend to a cacophony of mystique as musical magic and visual delights blossom before your eyes.
The snowflakes [waltz] and the journey to the kingdom of the sweets music are eminently danceable. Choreographer and director Peter Wright’s definitive production ranks as one of the most enduring and enchanting versions of The Nutcracker – the scenario, or steps, are 90% Wright’s, although the pas de deux is the original by Marius Petipa. So alluring are the steps, you almost want to see it twice; once to relish the performance up close and the second time to consume the beautiful synchronised pattern work from above.
From balletic mime to characterised movements – a wounded mouse is gallantly taken off stage via stretcher, claws rigour mortised – speaks to the witty gestures and meticulous detail with which Wright has attacked this work. A moment of pause must also be served for the sheer skill and effortlessness demonstrated by the sugar plum fairy – a performance that was nothing short of stunning.
Choreography seeps into the magical stagecraft of designer Julia Trevelyan Oman’s childlike fantasy of sweeping snowcaps and fantastical on stage mechanics. Showers of glitter mark physically what Tchaikovsky does musically and for a final dusting of bedazzlement, the onstage Christmas tree extends to its true and staggering height far above the gods.
The Nutcracker is without question a simple, sentimental and scintillating holiday classic for all the family.
The Nutcracker runs at The Royal Opera House until 10th January 2018.