There are those for whom every Christmas becomes another Nutcracker closer to death. While it is true that too much of this ballet can rot the critical faculties, the odd one or two are still delicious. That The Royal Ballet's production continues to be Peter Wright's now vintage production is nothing but a good thing – Wright knows how to deliver a satisfying show perhaps better than anyone in British ballet, so that this version is perhaps rivalled only by his production for Birmingham Royal Ballet. It is wholly satisfying, scenically in Julia Trevelyan Oman's sumptuous sets and costumes, and, choreographically, preserving what is left of Lev Ivanov's choreography and adding Wright's own more-than-acceptable movement.
It is very much a large company piece with countless vignettes and little solos in the first Act, creating the very picture of a bustling Biedermeyer Christmas sprung directly from a period greetings card. I love it and always have, gladly reacquainting myself with all these characters and always intrigued by the way in which Wright tweaks each revival in order to maintain interest. And then the dancing, which, in addition to the Grand Pas de Deux for the Sugar Plum fairy and her Prince, includes much for Clara and her Nutcracker, the Act Two divertissement dances in the Kingdom of the Sweets and the great Snowflakes ensemble which closes the first.
The Royal Ballet looks splendid: assured, idiomatic and stylish, all levels of this company performing this superb version of a perennial favourite with charm and aplomb. At its centre, the Grand Pas de Deux, danced with technical ease by the now-established stage-pairing of Steven McRae and Guest Artist Iana Salenko. They are a fine physical match, bringing harmonious proportions to their dancing, and security in everything that they do. It would be hard to find this duet better danced, except that there is missing that indefinable charm which the greatest exponents have displayed; he brings a certain shiny brio to his dancing and she lacks the warmth and generosity certainly the greatest Sugar Plums have radiated.
In this production, the 'central' couple of Clara and the Nutcracker have more dancing to do, their roles beefed up on numerous occasions over the years since this production's 1984 premiere. Francesca Hayward, one of the young hopes of the company, and Alexander Campbell, a welcome import from Birmingham a few years back, make a fine couple, and both exult in their choreography, she flush from a recent debut as Juliet, he a superb Young Man in The Two Pigeons only four days prior.
Yasmine Naghdi (another recent débutante Juliet) was a warm and musical Rose Fairy, and Gary Avis delivered a rounded portrayal of Drosselmeyer, the magician who weaves the Christmas spell. In an observation on the production, I find that his role has been over-developed as the decades have passed, and his character is now intrusive, getting in the way of the dancing in Act Two in particular.
The various set dances were splendid, from a Waltz of the Flowers, which showed some fine male dancing, to the ladies of the Snowflakes who brought pleasing uniformity to their choreography. Everywhere individual dancers stood out: Tristan Dyer as Clara's Act One party partner, making a great deal of this vignette; James Hay neat and precise as the Soldier Doll ; Fernando Montaño and Elizabeth Harrod impressive as Harlequin and Columbine. This is a company brimming with talent, which makes for evenings when so many are called upon to play their part so satisfying.
After a sluggish overture, Boris Gruzin settled into a finely paced account of this enchanting score, the orchestra cooperative and engaged, revelling in Tchaikovsky's sonorities.
- Performances until 14 January 2016
- Royal Opera House www.roh.org.uk