Much praise to Martin West who has managed to rouse the Covent Garden orchestra to give a fine rendition of Tchaikovsky’s toothsome score and who takes the music at quite a lick – making all the difference for the good in keeping the action going. The company looks happy, Wright encouraging detailed and colourful vignettes of characterisation in the Act One at the Stahlbaums' house and the Classical dancing assuming a greater coherence and stylishness than has been seen here for some time. Among the many details of the first act, I highlight Valentino Zucchetti who takes the cypher role of Drossellmeyer’s assistant and fills it to the brim with personality, Sabina Westcombe’s perky soubrette of a Columbine doll, impressively staccato of movement, and Paul Kay’s expertly delivered Soldier doll. These roles can pass for nothing and it would be tempting for a dancer not to bother investing much into them – these three dancers are exemplars of being able to make something out of very little. Also a winner was James Large, the diminutive Fritz, Clara’s brother, the epitome of little boy naughtiness – it always amazes me how a small child can fill the Covent Garden auditorium with character and hold the stage. Well done James!
There was much to enjoy in the Act II divertissements from a well-matched quartet of Mirlitons (someone at The Royal Ballet is, thankfully, telling them to ‘bend’) to a cracking Arabian Dance with Itziar Mendizabal secure of technique and orientally sultry in equal parts. I still find Wright’s fairly recent inclusion of a Rose Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers an unwelcome addition, particularly when he gives her some frankly awkward and tricky moves; Beatriz Stix-Brunell did not make much sense of the part but overcomes the fact that she lacks classical purity with bags of personality and a smile that alone could light up the auditorium.
Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Ricardo Cervera were as stylish a Clara and Nutcracker as one could wish for – she has acquired new softness and portrays the very picture of childish innocence, he dances and partners with such unaffected aplomb as to serve as an true example to others in the role. But, for those who were aware, eyes were especially focussed on the central couple, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. Lauren Cuthbertson is recently returned from a long illness and her return is wholly to be welcomed; she delivered an intensely 'English' Sugar Plum Fairy, fully in the company traditions – understated, warm, and generous. She looks ravishing in the costume and moves with polished assurance, smiling with benign warmth, the technical challenges calmly taken (the absence of double gargouillade jumps in her solo). Her partner, providing a fine physical match for Cuthbertson’s long limbs, was a guest from American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet Upper School-trained Cory Stearns. He made an excellent impression – every inch the Prince, he partnered solicitously and presented his ballerina with courtesy. His solo was un-showy but revealed an unforced technique, precise landings and a deep, pleasing plié. He might lack the final inches of elevation which modern eyes now demand of their male lead, but his presence was wholly to be welcomed – he brought an almost old-fashioned gentlemanly grace to his dancing, the like of which we have not seen at Covent Garden for some time. It would be good to see him dance more in London, given the thinness of the present roster of male principals at Covent Garden.
- Further performances at 7:30 p.m. on 9, 10, 12, 14 (7 p.m.), 20 (2:30 & 7 p.m.), 23 (12:30 p.m.), 24 (12:30 p.m.), 27 (2 & 7 p.m.), 31 (12 & 5 p.m.) December, and 2 (2 & 7 p.m.), 4 (12:30 p.m.), 8, 10, 11 (7 p.m.), 13, 15 & 16 January
- Royal Opera House www.roh.org.uk