Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Covent Garden Christmas Classic

The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 5th December
Photo:  Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
The Nutcracker is such a Christmas classic that it’s almost as clichéd as minced pies and Rudolph. There are four versions on show in London alone this year but its popularity remains high. In my summer ticket-booking spree, it seemed like such a good idea to see this festive delicacy again, yet as the date approached I wondered if I could bear to endure another two hours of present-opening and Kingdom of Sweets-finding merriment. Fortunately, the Royal Opera House’s heart-warming version, filled with magic, couldn’t fail to win me over and my Scrooge-like boredom with the ballet was quickly replaced with seasonal jollity.
Set on Christmas Eve, the ballet tells the story of Clara as she is given a Nutcracker doll gift by her godfather, Drosselmeyer. During the night the Nutcracker comes to life and he and Clara are transported through the snow to a magical kingdom where sweet treats dance in their honour. Peter Wright’s production for the Royal Ballet is a traditional one, taking inspiration from the original 1892 version and adding the less common surrounding narrative that the Nutcracker is Drosselmeyer’s nephew and Clara’s love restores him to life.
Tchaikovsky’s shimmering score was played expertly by the Royal Opera House orchestra, conducted by Dominic Grier; dancers were similarly in fine form and performed the choreography with flair and vivacity. Elizabeth Harrod was a radiant and wide-eyed Clara with enough sugary goodness to carry the insubstantial storyline. Paul Kay as the Nutcracker was handsome; particularly pleasing were his barely audible jump landings.
In Act II, Laura McCulloch oozed with serene sensuality in the Arabian dance. Laura Morera was a sprightly, charming and perfectly classical Rose Fairy. As the leads, Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish made a tender and regal couple. Effervescent Nunez displayed fascinating musicality; at times, her movements were stretched to the last second, at others, she rushed ahead to find unexpected moments of stillness. This brought a playfulness to the Sugar Plum Fairy which combined with Nunez’ irrepressible glow made her both a wholesome princess and sexy temptress who would encourage you to gorge too many sugar plums.
I may have seen what seems like a thousand Nutcrackers, but it never fails to put me in the Christmas mood. The Royal Ballet's version is a timeless classic and I defy anyone not to enjoy its sparkling festive delights. 

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