Review: Royal Ballet in The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House

Performance: In rep from 3 Dec 2011 - 18 Jan 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 6 December 2011

Royal Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Photo: Johan Persson

I begin with a guilty conscience in fear that I may have jinxed the lovely Principal ballerina Sarah Lamb by recording in my recent review of Manon that she was about to create a modern record by opening three consecutive full-length ballets at the Royal Opera House. Alas, it was not to be since poor Sarah was taken ill as the ballet began. Proving that one should always have a sugar plum in reserve, her place was taken by Marianela Nuñez, there to watch her husband, Thiago Soares, perform as The Prince. Perhaps it was the unexpected pleasure of partnering her real-life prince or the sudden exhilaration of the call to action but Nuñez delivered the most delicious Sugar Plum Fairy imaginable. It may involve not much more than a grand pas de deux but it was one of those performances that will long be remembered. Her variation with its gentle, flowing changes, creating beautiful pose after pose, was both delicate and majestic and the pas de deux with Soares was the epitome of unfussy, elegant control.

This was one of the first snowdrops in a veritable blizzard of Nutcracker’s to hit London over the next few weeks, with performances also coming from English National Ballet (at the London Coliseum), Birmingham Royal Ballet (at the O2) and Matthew Bourne’s exclamatory version ( Nutcracker! ) occupying Sadler’s Wells. We will have had enough nuts and sugar plums come mid-January but there is no better way to begin the festivities than by catching Peter Wright’s fabulous production at Covent Garden. Premiered in 1984 and revived for the Christmas season in nine of the past twelve years, it owes much to the wonderful designs of the late Julia Trevelyan Oman. They may be confusing as to period – the guests at the Stahlbaum’s party wear clothing that spans the eighteenth century, through Regency and into Victorian times – but the collection of warm russet and bronze colours in the Stahlbaum house and Oman’s perfect idealisation of the lands of snow and sweets are timeless reminders of a Christmas that exists only in our dreams. The most momentous imagery lies in the transformation of the giant Christmas tree, growing in immensity along with the burgeoning theme in Tchaikovsky’s music, to represent reality turning into magical illusion. It should bring out the child in us all.

The Nutcracker needs a big cast and with 26 performances over the Christmas season it will be a busy time for most Royal Ballet dancers. There were strong supporting performances throughout, not least by the experienced Spanish duo of Ricardo Cervera as Hans-Peter (the boy imprisoned within The Nutcracker doll) and Laura Morera as the Rose Fairy, plus an exceptional Arabian dance led by Melissa Hamilton and Gary Avis. Iohna Loots – a long-serving soloist – was surprisingly credible as the Stahlbaum’s teenage daughter Clara, but regrettably her stand-out moment in the pas de deux with Cervera (to one of Tchaikovsky’s most gorgeous themes) was noticeably affected by the intermittent noise of stage machinery moving behind the ruffling curtain. The regular musicians were given the night off and – in spite of these few extraneous noises – the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, did a splendid job in this planned substitution.

Long may the enduring appeal of The Nutcracker last (well, at least until being packed away in January). This performance was seen by many little girls who were pirouetting with joy on their way home. Some may become dancers and when asked about their inspiration it will no doubt be attributed to this most radiant performance by Marianela Nuñez.

Continues at the Royal Opera House
7,13,18 (Mat),20 (Mat),23 (Mat/Eve),24 (Mat),28 (Mat/Eve),29,30,31 (Ma/Eve) December, 2 (Mat), 3 (Mat/Eve),7 (Mat/Eve),11, 14 (Mat/Eve), 18 January

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