Review: The Royal Ballet - The Nutcracker - Royal Opera House

Performance: 10 Dec 2012 - 16 Jan 2013
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Sunday 9 December 2012

The Royal Ballet's 'The Nutcracker'. Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy ROH.

Performance reviewed: 8 December

There is no better way to welcome the Christmas Season than with an evening in the company of Peter Wright’s seminal production of The Nutcracker at The Royal Ballet. It is everything and more from our cosiest winter dreams. Some companies revise their version of the Christmas classic as regularly as changing the wallpaper: English National Ballet has had ten versions in sixty years. But I hope that the revisionist gene passes this one by at The Royal Ballet because Wright’s spectacular, idealistic vision simply cannot be improved.

Wright’s narrative works better than any other retelling of the Hoffman tale about the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, enhanced by the proper use of mime. On arrival at the Kingdom of the Sweets, when the Nutcracker tells the Sugar Plum Fairy of his recent history, Ricardo Cervera’s actions speak louder than words as the whole story is vividly brought back to life. As Peter Wright has shown with his productions of Giselle, The Nutcracker and other classic ballets, he has a mastery of achieving clarity through tighter story-telling.

And speaking of masters, the unsung hero of The Nutcracker, so neglected in many other versions is Herr Drosselmeyer, the magician of supernatural powers. Seen as a supporting actor in most interpretations, Wright has reinstated the character’s central and dominating plot significance. It is Drosselmeyer who opens and closes the show; he, who brings the young girl, Clara, to rescue his nephew, Hans-Peter, from the evil Mouse King; and who transports them both to Sugar Plum country, acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the international dance show that is put on to celebrate their visit.

No other artist brings the magic and the power to Drosselmeyer as does the peerless Gary Avis and he is the pivotal reason for this show’s success. Avis performs conjuring tricks with the skill and dexterity of the late and much-lamented Ali Bongo. But his greatest magic is to convince us that he alone is responsible for the magical transformation of the Stahlbaum Living Room as its giant Christmas tree grows under his powerful spell to the memorable, panoramic music of Tchaikovsky. Avis has an almighty stage presence that never fails to give his characters an impressive, dynamic weight. At this stage of a brilliant career, Avis as Drosselmeyer in Wright’s production of The Nutcracker is a match made if not in heaven, then certainly in the Kingdom of the Sweets.

The cast everywhere lives up to expectations. As Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker and Clara, Cervera and Meaghan Grace Hinkis have the R-Factor (“ahhh”) in their sweet, believable lightness of youth; while Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae gave a mature yet glittering rendition of the grand pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince at the show’s conclusion. Laura Morera – a supreme lyrical ballerina who is much under-used in The Royal’s current repertoire – had an eye-catching, demure appeal as the Rose Fairy. It was also pleasing to see Akane Takada taking her first steps in returning from a long injury as one of the delightful Mirlitons.

These dancers need a superb production in which to shine. Any interpretation of The Nutcracker will benefit from the glorious sweeping Tchaikovsky score, which was played superbly here by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the direction of Koen Kessels, rightly receiving the biggest cheer of the evening. Such genius music would make watching rubbish worthwhile. But no other production has the benefit of the late Julia Trevelyan Oman’s delightful designs, which somehow bring back every wonderful memory of how Christmas should be. But, if Christmas never quite matches up to our expectation, then we can be sure with an equal certainty that The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker will never disappoint.

This same cast, by the way, will be featured in the latest live cinema showing from the Royal Opera House this Thursday (13 December), being broadcast simultaneously in 900 cinemas worldwide (240 of which are here in the UK). I heartily recommend seeing it in the theatre but this live cinematic experience is surely the next best thing. For a list of cinema screenings see www.roh.org.uk/cinema.

Continues in rep at The Royal Opera House until 18 January 2013. Dates & times: www.roh.org.uk

Graham Watts writes for londondance.com, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.

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