Review: Royal Ballet in The Nutcracker at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep til 31 Dec 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 November 2009

Royal Ballet 'The Nutcracker'
Miyako Yoshida as the Sugar Plum Fairy
Royal Opera House, in rep until 31 Dec 09
Photo: Johan Persson

Reviewed*: 26 November*

For me, the best of all times is the feeling that Christmas is coming; it might be too much of a truism, but nonetheless true, to say that the day itself rarely lives up to expectations and the mood of Christmas quickly evaporates into a haze of cold turkey during those last few dull days of December. I suffer from Scrooge-Reversal Syndrome; the build-up to Christmas brings out the excited child in me but I wake up as a Humbug on the day itself!

Nothing sets off the anticipation of Christmas more than The Nutcracker – another obvious truism since virtually every company in the western world will be performing it over the next few weeks – but none could capture the evocation of the season more than the snow-encrusted conifers and icy Mirlitons of the Royal Ballet’s cosy, ochre-tinged confection.

It will not quite seem the same without Miyako Yoshida as the Sugar Plum Fairy since on the afternoon of this opening performance, the Royal Ballet’s Guest Principal announced her retirement from the company, with her final performance to come in the tour to Japan, next Summer. Yoshida has been with the Royal Ballet companies for more than a quarter of a century, transferring from the Birmingham Royal Ballet to Covent Garden, fourteen years ago. She has been – and remains – the most exquisite, ravishing Sugar Plum Fairy imaginable. Her Prince on this occasion was the Company’s newest – and youngest – Principal dancer, Steven McRae and Herr Drosselmeyer’s magic made the two-decade age difference between these dancers evaporate with the stardust. As it should be, the highlight of the whole chocolate box came in their extraordinary grand pas de deux with its explosive chemical composition of Yoshida’s sublime classical line and innate musicality and McRae’s virtuosic artistry; many athletic dancers can jump well but few can do it with such intense adherence to the particularity of technique required in their feet and arms.

The strength of this exceptional artistry was well-matched by the other leading players. Gary Avis delivered a towering characterisation of the magician, Drosselmeyer, reaching out to the heights of the upper Amphitheatre with every gesture in a performance that lives through his expert sense of the theatre and Ricardo Cervera and Iohna Loots were splendid in the ingénue leads as Hans-Peter, Drosselmeyer’s nephew trapped in The Nutcracker doll, and Clara, the young girl who brings him back to the real world (albeit one comprising the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of the Sweets!).

The Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian Divertissements were recreated with an affectionate and dutiful respect but I felt that the Waltz of the Flowers could perhaps do with some fine tuning both to keep the male escorts in time with one-another and to improve the line and port de bras of a few recalcitrant fairies. The younger corps de ballet dancers might do well to follow the lead timing and line of Francesca Filpi who seems always to be the model of excellence in these ensembles. The late elevation of Helen Crawford into the lead, Rose Fairy, created a knock-on effect of cast changes amongst the group and this waltz – like some parts of the first Act – appeared to be conducted at a lightning pace.

Peter Wright’s interpretation of The Nutcracker is simply the most perfect epitome of all the things that the festive season should be, brought to glorious fruition in the wonderful designs of the late Julia Trevelyan Oman. This season marks its 25th anniversary within the repertoire of the Royal Ballet and I hope it stays until at least the half-century since it will be impossible to replace and – like so many others – I’ve become accustomed to the spirit of Christmas starting right here!

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