On the Monday before Xmas it was time to revisit the Royal Ballet's evergreen production of THE NUTCRACKER. Yes, once again it was time to revisit the workshop of Herr Drosselmeyer, battle the Mouse King and journey to the Land of Sweets via the magical growing Christmas tree on the stage of Covent Garden. Well I suppose three out of four isn't bad.
The Royal Ballet production of choreographer Peter Wright's THE NUTCRACKER is a Christmas staple at Covent Garden and after having fallen totally under it's spell last year, we pirouetted back for another helping, in fact we saw it's 436th performance! This year is an extra-special revival as it mark's Sir Peter's 90th birthday.
It was a joy to see again and to hear the Royal Opera House orchestra under the baton of Boris Gruzin bring Tchaikovsky's thrilling score to life again - the second act could almost be called Ballet's Greatest Hits with the Chinese and Russian Divertissements followed by the Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy's glorious pas de deux and her solo.
We were about a third into the opening scene and gearing up to the big reveal - Drosselmeyer's shrinking Clara to the size of the Nutcracker by the scenic ploy of having the Christmas Tree at the back of the stage seeming to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.
Christopher Saunders as Drosselmeyer whipped his cloak around and about - it must be said not a patch on Gary Avis' capework from last year - and Meaghan Grace Hinkis' Clara fluttered about expectantly... but the tree stayed the same size. With a whoosh the curtains flew in and a stage manager appeared to tell us that due to technical difficulties they were going to have stop for a few minutes... but, but, it's - like - Covent Garden!!! It's the Christmas Tree!!!!
After what seemed an eternity - but probably not that long really - the orchestra struck up the transformation music, the curtains parted - and there was Clara and Drosselmeyer whirling away in front of the fully-grown tree. I guess it was ok in the long run but darn, Constant Reader... I wanted to see the damn thing grow!
But the great thing about Peter Wright's NUTCRACKER is that it doesn't hang around over anything for too long, it's forever moving forward. So after Clara defeats the Mouse King and frees Drosselmeyer's handsome nephew Hans-Peter from his Nutcracker spell, they are off into the world to experience the joy of dancing snowflakes and their trip to become guests of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.
Although I liked Hinkis and Valentino Zucchetti as Clara and Hans-Peter, I felt that Federico Bonelli and Laura Morera as the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy, while fine together, lacked something in their solos - the pairing last year of Steven McRae and Iana Salenko were excellent together and apart.
But the total work was still glorious: Wright's always thrilling choreography, the late Julia Trevelyan Oman's exquisite design and Mark Henderson's lighting all combine to make The Royal Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER a perennial must-see at Christmas time.
Just sort out that Christmas Tree for next time, eh?