Musical suites and magical sweets
With musical suites and magical sweets, Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is a festive feast for all the senses: Tchaikovsky’s score is rich with wonder, a Christmas tree grows to great heights and snow falls in an fairytale forest, and it’s performed with all the warmth and wit that’s found in the drop of whiskey that deepens the flavour of any Christmas cake; many an ingredient go into making this Nutcracker a Christmas treat to satisfy all tastes.
There’s sugary sweetness from the Royal Ballet School children at the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve bash, brought back from the brink of saccharine by the Royal Ballet’s believable and oft-overlooked character artists, with Elizabeth McGorian and Christopher Saunders as the idealised Edwardian hosts and Kristen McNally making a delicious meal out of the dancing mistress. As Drosselmeyer, the magician desperate to free his Nutcracker nephew from the Mouse King, Gary Avis is the cream that melts all the magic together, introducing his mechanical dolls – Paul Kay and Meaghan Grace Hinkis’s darting soldiers are a delight for children and adults alike – with a flourish of that magnificent cloak.
After beating the initial ingredients up into a great big battle, the Nutcracker cracks into a charming Alexander Campbell and takes his Clara, a glowing Francesca Hayward, by the hand, and, under a flouring of Snowflakes – a genuine feat of grace and grit and geometry – whisks her off to a faraway land in celebration. And Act II is a celebration of balletic technique and exotic tastes: from the smooth arabesques of Melissa Hamilton’s Arabian, to Leo Dixon and Calvin Richardson’s chocolate-box-cute bouncing as two Chinese Tea twins, to the cinnamon spice of Tristan Dyer and Paul Kay in the rollicking Russian dance, with Clara and her Nutcracker in the midst of the magic, mixing with the Mirlitons and kicking it with the cossacks.
Glittering from their crowns down, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae are gorgeously dressed in Julia Trevelyan Oman’s glorious designs, and their grande pas de deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince, though, like icing, is purely decorative, is dazzling: deliciously delicate in Lamb’s développés à la seconde that McRae allows to breathe, delightful in the beautifully-jumped grande jetés, and, although Lamb’s gargouillades, gruelling as they are, lose a little froth in their final diagonal, the pairing are the icing on an already delectable cake.
The Royal Ballet’s production has a framing device that adds some much-needed depth to the plot of this perennial Christmas classic, and with Avis’s fine theatrical performance and Tchaikovsky’s magical music, it underscores the family feel of the Nutcracker and closes the evening on a beautifully bittersweet taste.