Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The NUTCRACKER at Covent Garden - Christmas can start officially now!

How better to end the year of New Cultural Events (namely opera and ballet) than with a visit to Covent Garden to see a classic Royal Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's perennial favourite THE NUTCRACKER.

Warning to any diabetics - this production could endanger your health as the Sugar Plums rule!  My only previous experience of the piece is through Matthew Bourne's own take on it NUTCRACKER! which i have always enjoyed but now I am more au fait with dance it was time to be able to put that production in context next to the original.  Step forward the Royal Ballet with their 1999 production choreographed by Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov's original 1892 choreography.

As I have said before, it's remarkable that ballet companies can have productions that hark back to the original production of the piece.  How many theatre directors would like to direct UNCLE VANYA that was modelled on Stanislavski's original?  However there is certainly something in having a lineage to draw on and this production, here staged by Christopher Carr, is already in it's eleventh revival.

The production is simply enchanting, radiating warmth and goodwill like a particularly large glass of mulled wine.  Helped immeasurably by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs, Wright's take on the story has the magician Drosselmeyer mourning that his nephew has been transformed by an enemy into a nutcracker, as you do!  His chance to undo the spell comes with a Christmas invitation to a family where he gives the nutcracker to the young daughter Clara.

Her love for the nutcracker releases the spell but not before Clara and the nephew defeat the nasty mouse king and his army after being shrunk by the magician.  He could have made it easier surely by keeping them human-sized!  Their reward is to be spirited away to the Kingdom of Sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince and be entertained by divertissements organised by Drosselmeyer.  On their return to the real world, Clara runs out of her house and bumps into a young man who looks strangely familiar, he in turn, hurries to Drosselmeyer's house where he is happily reunited with his uncle.

Peter Wright's spin on the story makes for a delightful fairy tale and Christopher Carr's staging made it as light as spun sugar on whipped cream.  It whizzed along like a top and this was in no small measure due to the excellent cast.  It was a particular delight to see a proper corps in the impossibly lovely Dance of the Snowflakes.

Gary Avis was very good as the magician Drosselmeyer, he has played it for a few years now and he twirled his vivid blue cape with panache.  Francesca Hayward was delightful as Clara, dancing with a sweet elegance and she was well partnered by Alexander Campbell as her energetic beloved nutcracker-made-real.  A special mention too for Olivia Cowley as the sinuous lead dancer in the Arabic speciality number.

The biggest treat of all was to see the show on the night that the Sugar Plum royalty were being danced by Iana Salenko and Steven McRae who we have seen previously as the lovers in THE TWO PIGEONS and as ROMEO AND JULIET.  In their solos and in their pas de deux both were excellent, elegant, graceful and with innate musicality but also dazzling in their speed around the stage and their controlled strength.

As I said, in a year of discovering the Royal Ballet in particular, what a delight to end on the magical high with this production of the NUTCRACKER and as I said, finally having a mental companion piece to Matthew Bourne's version.

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