I’ve always said that Christmas truly begins with a performance of The Nutcracker by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. This year this seems to be truer than ever, and so it is a warm return that greets a different version of the perennial favourite, with the Birmingham Hippodrome this year hosting the London version, one that combines the traditional ballet with wonderful projections, and also gives the ballet a voice in the form of narrator magician Drosselmeyer (danced to perfection by Rory Mackay, voiced by the inimitable Simon Callow.)
The story is still the one we know and love, albeit with a charming Victorian opening set around Drosselmeyer’s toy shop. The feeling is Dickensian and rather lovely, and sets the stage for Drosselmeyer’s magical toys. The story then follows its usual path with the lovely Clara(Karla Doorbar) given a special gift of a Nutcracker doll that she instantly falls in love with. Retrieving the doll from under the Christmas tree, she is suddenly transported to a magical land, where the Nutcracker is alive (in the marvellous form of Mathias Dingman), rats are as big as people and there is a dancing Sugarplum fairy, a beautiful Snow Queen, a magical array of dancers, and a glorious (projected) flying swan that transports Clara through a snowy, wonderful wilderness where her Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince. But is it real, or just a wonderful Christmas Eve dream?
The new (to Birmingham at least), almost pared down version has much to recommend it, from the more spacious sets that give the dancers space to shine in, to the wonderful freeze frame scene where the dancing dolls once again become inanimate objects, adding to the dreamlike feel of the production. Karla Doorbar is a wonderful Clara, totally capturing her sweetness and delicacy, whilst Beatrice Parma is beautiful and elegant as The Sugar Plum Fairy. It was lovely to see, as well as hear, the glorious strains of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, performing on an elevated platform which seemed to make up part of the ballroom for the family celebrating Christmas Eve, whilst the scene of the Snow Fairy (a stunning Yaoqian Shang) and her attendants, the scene forever known for its powdery snowfall, is still one of the most beautiful scenes in all ballet, and totally gives you Christmas cheer.
The Nutcracker, is, and will remain, the quintessential Christmas ballet, a work of beauty and love that charms new generations every year. It is now, officially Christmas.