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A Christmas Fairytale – The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker Review

One of my Christmas traditions is watching the Nutcracker and I was delighted to finally watch the Royal Ballet’s production of this beloved ballet at the Royal Opera House in December. Sir Peter Wright, the Royal Ballet’s beloved choreographer (who turned 95 this year!) showcased his production of the ballet in 1984. With Julia Trevelyan Oman’s enchanting designs. Wright’s Nutcracker is a memorable piece within the Christmas calendar. 

Created in 1892 as a two-act piece and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, the ballet is adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816). 

Wright’s ballet follows the journey of Clara, a young girl who attends a party on Christmas Eve hosted by her parents. One of the party’s most anticipated guests is Clara’s godfather – Herr Drosselmeyer, (performed by Gary Avis) who brings so much joy and emotive presence to the character. This is especially important as Drosselmeyer is at the heart of the ballet’s magic. Drosselmeyer has a propensity for magical tricks and enjoys entertaining the children with puppet shows and all kinds of mischief. One of his gifts, a Nutcracker doll, attracts Clara. (danced by Ashley Dean.) Dean performs a pas de deux (dance duet) with her new doll and expresses the childlike innocence required of Clara with delicate precision. Late in the evening, when the party ends, Clara drifts off to sleep, dreaming of her brief waltz with her beloved Nutcracker. As the clock strikes midnight, an array of curiosities occur. Drosselmeyer re-emerges out of the shadows and the enchantment of the night begins…

Marcelino Sambe and Anna Rose O’ Sullivan in The Nutcracker. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Picture credit: The Sunday Times

The tree and the sounds of the orchestra grow in harmony as the Christmas tree expands in size. Soon, we are transported into a battle with the Mouse King. It is up to Clara’s Nutcracker who has now transformed into a young man (performed by Leo Dixon) to defeat the Mouse. Once overthrown, Clara and her Nutcracker share a beautiful pas de deux. Then enters the enchanting Snowflakes, a beautiful ensemble displayed by the corps de ballet (group of dancers). A flurry of sparkling tutu’s chime with Tchaikovsky’s score. The pure delight of the corps, with their light footwork and speedy grand jetes (jump with a kick in the air), are wonderful to behold! 

Corps de Ballet-The Waltz of the Snowflakes Photograph by Tristram Kenton 
Picture credit: The Guardian

Following the First Act, we have whisked away on a sleigh to the Land of Sweets. The stage is set in a whimsical kingdom, sparkling with glitter. We witness the much-anticipated entrance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Due to COVID guidelines and the increase of the Omicron variant, the original partnership of Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell was replaced by Marianela Nunez and Reece Clarke. It was a delightful surprise as both Marianela and Reece are beautiful, emotive dancers. 

Once they made their entrance, we were treated to a fantastic ensemble of performances from sweets all around the world. Chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, tea from China, candy cane’s from Russia. My favourite performances were the Dance of the Mirlitons and of course, the Waltz of the Flowers. The orchestral accompaniment for Flowers is a true delight and the corps de ballet shone in their elegant floral tutu’s; which glimmered with thousands of delicately sewn Swarovski crystals.

To conclude this whimsical display was the entrance of the Sugar Plum Fairy her Prince for their beautiful pas de deux. Marianela and Reece form the perfect partnership. Each movement was delicately executed, with refined pirouettes and dramatic lifts. As the orchestra builds up into its crescendo (conducted by Barry Wordsworth), it is difficult to resist being moved by this display of artistry and technique.

Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov in The Nutcracker. Photograph by Alastair Muir.
Picture credit: DanceTabs

Following the pas de deux, we see the Prince’s solo. Clarke’s light and effortless tourne en l’air (turn in the air)and jetes (jumps) were delightful to behold and as a First Soloist, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his promotion to Principal in the coming years. 

The moment which every audience member is eager to see… The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This variation is so iconic – it has become the pinnacle of classical ballet itself. As a delicate, ethereal creature, costumed in a pastel-coloured tutu, Marianela begins her performance with light, frothy steps. Despite appearing effortless, this is one of the most challenging solos in the repertoire. However, Nunez does not allow this to show and expresses a sense of ease in her movements which never appear premeditated. The steps flow from each limb gracefully and allow the audience to feel as if they have been transported into this fairytale realm. 

To complete this virtuosic ensemble, we finish with the Sugar Plum and Prince’s Coda. This is a pure display of artistic talents at their height. From Clarke’s princely leaps to Nunez’s fouettes (quick whipping movements), this final variation always leaves the audience in rapturous applause.

Soon the wonderment of the Kingdom of Sweets dissolves back into the snowy scene of Act I. On a deserted street, near Clara’s home, she wanders bewildered over whether the enchantment of the evening was merely a dream… 

Clara stumbles upon a young gentleman clothed in a soldier’s uniform, asking for directions. Clara provides them and senses a connection. As he wanders away, in search of the address Clara has a moment of realisation. Touching the necklace which the Sugar Plum Fairy gave her – Clara remembers everything. 

We return to Drosselmeyer’s workshop. He sits, pensively – awaiting some occurrence. After a knock on the door, he is greeted by his nephew, Hans Peter. Together once more, Drosselmeyer and Peter embrace a beautiful moment of reunion.

Written by Sophie Jones