Yasmine Naghdi as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Matthew Ball as The Prince in The Nutcracker, The Royal Ballet © 2017 ROH. Photographed by Karolina Kuras

The Royal Ballet – Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker conducted by Koen Kessels – Laura Morera, Federico Bonelli, Anna Rose O’Sullivan & Claire Calvert

Tchaikovsky
The Nutcracker, Op.71 – Ballet in two acts to choreography by Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov, based on an original scenario by Marius Petipa after E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig

Herr Drosselmeyer – Gary Avis
Clara – Anna Rose O’Sullivan
Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker – James Hay
The Sugar Plum Fairy – Laura Morera
The Prince – Federico Bonelli

Drosselmeyer’s Assistant – David Yudes
Housekeeper – Barbara Rhodes
Dr Stahlbaum – Christopher Saunders
Mrs Stahlbaum – Elizabeth McGorian
Fritz – Flynn Hallworth
Clara’s Partner – Benjamin Ella
Grandmother – Kristen McNally
Grandfather – Philip Mosley
Harlequin – Téo Dubreuil
Columbine – Isabella Gasparini
Soldier – Joseph Sissens
Vivandière – Meaghan Grace Hinkis
Mouse King – David Donnelly
Snowflakes – Artists of The Royal Ballet

Divertissements
Chinese Dance: Leo Dixon, Calvin Richardson
Russian Dance: Giacomo Rovero, David Yudes
Dance of the Mirlitons: Ashley Dean, Isabella Gasparini, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Romany Pajdak

Waltz of the Flowers
Rose Fairy – Claire Calvert
Her Escorts – William Bracewell, Téo Dubreuil, Benjamin Ella, Valentino Zucchetti
Leading Flowers – Annette Buvoli, Melissa Hamilton, Nathalie Harrison, Mayara Magri
Flowers – Artists of The Royal Ballet
Angels and Children – Students of The Royal Ballet School

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Koen Kessels

Peter Wright – Production, scenario, and choreography
Lev Ivanov – Original choreography
Will Tuckett – Choreography, Act I Battle Scene [2020]
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky – Music [The Nutcracker, Op.71]
Rowland Lee – Reduced orchestration
Julia Trevelyan Oman – Designs
Mark Henderson – Lighting design
Kevin O’Hare, Gary Avis, Samantha Raine – Restaging [2020]


Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 12 December, 2020
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. London

It has been a long time coming, but three cheers for The Royal Ballet for finding a way to present its famed production of The Nutcracker at a time when good cheer is in short supply.  It is not the full production, given how densely populated that undertaking is, but anyone thinking that it could or should have been so when the pandemic continues to affects every aspect of daily life is living more in make-believe of the Act II Kingdom of the Sweets than the dancers who briefly inhabit it.  Director Kevin O’Hare and his ballet masters and mistresses have done an impressive job in snipping the numbers of dancers and minimising ‘gratuitous’ partnering, so as to protect the artists as they perform.  Yes, the Stahlbaums’ Act I party looks a little under-attended, the limited seasonal mixing of households clearly already in place, the sixteen snowflakes are more a flurry rather than a storm, and the close-contact Arabian and Spanish dances in Act II have fallen foul of the requirements of social distancing, but this is still a magical Nutcracker, resplendent in Julia Trevelyan Oman’s Biedermeier sets and opulent costumes and danced with verve and polish by the company.

There have, however, been some strange costuming decisions.  The strangest is in the Chinese Dance in which the two dancers (the excellent and well-matched Leo Dixon and Calvin Richardson) wear the usual blue and white oriental costumes but have no wigs or make-up; it makes for a strange look and one which has the viewer asking if they had simply forgot.  Similarly, the cavaliers in the Waltz of the Flowers sport their own hair, while the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Prince wears a wig.  The price of Tier 2 and/or social distancing?

The changes are most keenly felt in the Act II divertissements not only given the excision of two numbers, but in the non-partnering of poor old Clara who now half-heartedly gets involved in the dancing.  No complaints about Will Tuckett’s new choreography for the Act I Mouse Battle using adult dancers rather than the usual school children.  Tuckett uses the stage well and has made an exciting but not over-complicated ensemble – your reviewer, for one, would welcome its retention after Covid has passed and normal ballet service is resumed.

No complaints about the standard of the dancing, however, with the Snowflakes as crisp as a new-fallen drift and suitably emphatic in their use of head, neck and upper body – Ivanov’s choreography here is masterful in evoking the sparkle of frost-covered snow.  Claire Calvert was expansive as the Act II Rose Fairy, although a little more care with the detailing of her hands would be welcome.

The main roles were superbly taken, from Gary Avis’s detailed yet brightly-drawn Drosselmeyer to the ever-impressive James Hay, whose secure partnering, elegant line and beautifully-pointed feet were showcased as Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker.  Anna Rose O’Sullivan was luxury casting too as Clara, her crystalline technique allied to a touching portrayal of the girl chosen to save the NutcrackerReigning supreme over the Kingdom of the Sweets, the A-list pairing of Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli, consummate artists both, who brought their immense experience and artistry to the highlight Grand Pas de deux.  Bonelli negotiated the challenges in partnering of the beautiful opening adagio with an unruffled smoothness and brought his customary elegance to his solo.  He is a reassuring dancer, long of limb and secure of technique, a real role-model for any younger dancer who aspires to be a danseur noble.  Laura Morera should be required watching for all company dancers, such is her astonishing musicality and unerring ability to make every gesture and movement count.  She brings the elusive quality of spontaneity to the choreography, making it breathe and flex, as she weaves it around and through the music.  Her Sugar Plum Fairy solo was a masterclass in giving weight and sense to every step; she combined grandeur with alluring femininity and eschewed all extremes or tricks, relying on the steps to speak purely through her.

Morera, Bonelli, and all around them were superbly supported by the house orchestra on expansive form under Koen Kessels.  Kessels shaped the slightly edited score (in a cleverly reduced orchestration which caused the loss of no impact) with care, giving room for the great, sweeping melodies of the Act I transformation and the Grand Pas de deux while also bringing impetus to the Snowflakes’ pas d’action.  The orchestra revelled in the richness of Tchaikovsky’s music; the placing of the harp and celeste in the Stalls Circle, thereby making them acoustically more prominent, was particularly felicitous.

During the Second World War, Vic-Wells Ballet toured the UK with two pianos instead of an orchestra, and most of the men of the company were away fighting.  And yet, under Ninette de Valois, the company kept on performing, doing its bit to keep up national morale and the art form alive.  In 2020, faced with the coronavirus pandemic, some sacrifices have had to be made, but in successfully re-staging The Nutcracker, The Royal Ballet has found some of their famed war spirit, showing that through determination and dedication, they have kept calm and carried on.

The Royal Ballet’s spectacular Nutcracker is being streamed on 22nd December 2020 at 7pm. It costs just £16 per household and will be available to view on demand for 30 days until 21st January 2021. Full details may be found here: https://www.roh.org.uk/news/the-royal-ballets-spectacular-nutcracker-to-be-streamed-on-22-december-2020

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