The Royal Ballet – Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker conducted by Koen Kessels – Marianela Nuñez & Vadim Muntagirov

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
The Nutcracker – Joseph Sissens
Sugar Plum Fairy – Marianela Nuñez
Prince – Vadim Muntagirov

Act I
Drosselmeyer’s assistant – Liam Boswell
Dr Stahlbaum – Christopher Saunders
Mrs Stahlbaum – Christina Arestis
Fritz – Sasha Dobrynin-Lait
Clara’s partner – Leo Dixon
Grandmother – Nadia Mullova-Barley
Grandfather – Philip Mosley
Maiden aunts – Caroline Jennings, Sue Nye
Housekeeper – Barbara Rhodes
Dancing mistress – Kristen McNally
Captain – David Donnelly
Harlequin – Harry Churches
Columbine – Ashley Dean
Soldier – David Yudes
Vivandière – Isabella Gasparini
Mouse King – Tomas Mock
Snowflakes – Artists of The Royal Ballet

Act II
Spanish dance – Hannah Grennell, Tomas Mock, Mariko Sasaki, Giacomo Rovero, Amelia Townsend, Kevin Emerton
Arabian dance – Melissa Hamilton, Lukas B. Brændsrød
Chinese dance – Luca Acri, David Yudes
Russian dance – Liam Boswell, Leo Dixon
Dance of the Mirlitons – Ashley Dean, Isabella Gasparini, Sae Maeda, Charlotte Tonkinson
Rose Fairy – Yuhui Choe
Rose Fairy Escorts – William Bracewell, Harry Churches, Nicol Edmonds, Calvin Richardson
Leading Flowers – Olivia Cowley, Leticia Dias, Isabel Lubach, Julia Roscoe
Flowers – Artists of The Royal Ballet
Angels and children – Students of The Royal Ballet School

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Koen Kessels

Choreography – Peter Wright
Original choreography – Lev Ivanov
Choreography Battle Scene – Will Tuckett
Arabian Dance – Gary Avis [adaption]
Music – Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Designer – Julia Trevelyan Oman
Lighting designer – Mark Henderson


5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 23 November, 2021
Venue: Royal Opera House. Covent Garden, London

Three cheers for Sir Peter! Peter Wright, a mainstay of British ballet for many decades, turns ninety-five on 25th November, and The Royal Ballet, having recently revived his Giselle, now also brings his Nutcracker to the Covent Garden stage.  It remains a Rolls-Royce of a production, a well-oiled, supremely classy vehicle for the company’s dancers.  It is certainly traditional in look – Julia Trevelyan Oman’s opulent designs remain a delight – and preserves many beauties from Lev Ivanov’s original choreographic concept, but, as this revival showed, still retains a zest and vitality which bring this most seasonal of old classical ballets once more to life.  There have been small changes, notably the cutting down of the Arabian Dance from four to two dancers, given, one suspects the gender imbalance (3 men manipulating a single woman) and at best nebulous cultural sensitivities, which nonetheless retains the best of this number.  Alas, Will Tuckett’s pedestrian mouse battle, danced by adults rather than children, has, unfortunately, been retained which, by eschewing the appearance of the Mouse King by a trap door stage lift, makes a nonsense of the Nutcracker’s mime in Act II, which describes precisely that.  No trap door, no flying of little Fritz and the excision of children after the initial Stahlbaum party all make this a marginally less ‘fun’ production.

All that said, it is hard to quibble with the opening night’s performance with the company both in top form and clearly enjoying itself.  The beautiful corps de ballet work in Giselle here translates into a Snowflake Waltz of uncommon homogeneity and a Dance of the Mirlitons of real precision, while first artists and soloists almost all took every opportunity to shine in their solos and duets.  Standing out as she did in Giselle was Ashley Dean as a spiky, characterful Act I Columbine while Melissa Hamilton and Lukas B. Brændsrød took the honours in the Act II national divertissements with a sensuous reading of their Arabian duet.

Of the main roles, Gary Avis was clearly having much fun as Drosselmeyer and brought detail and nuance to a part which can easily descend into over-the-top showman.  It has expanded over the years since this production’s 1984 premiere, perhaps too much so, but Avis’s warmth and benevolence is hard to resist; he is a character artist to treasure.  Anna Rose O’Sullivan was a technically assured Clara while not forgetting to bring wide-eyed innocence to the first scene at her parents’ house while her partner as the Nutcracker was Joseph Sissens, a last-minute stand in for the admirable James Hay, and thereby making his role debut, who visibly relaxed as the evening progressed.  He possesses an open line and high explosive jumps which exude youth and vitality and he will, undoubtedly, bring greater elegance as his experience deepens.  Yuhui Choe, a much-admired first soloist, has returned this season after maternity, and it was good to see her essay the tricky role of the Act II Rose Fairy; by the end of the evening, she had refound much of her old lyricism.

At the centre is the famed Grand Pas, here delivered in textbook fashion by the luxury casting of Marianela Nuñez as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Vadim Muntagirov as her Prince.  Nuñez danced in the grandest of manners, showing a deep understanding of Ivanov’s classicism, her phrasing elegant and poised, her delivery pin-point accurate, her musicality unforced.  She was a benign presence throughout, the most generous of rulers of her Kingdom of Sweets.  Muntagirov, a gleeful smile playing across his face, gave a near-faultless account of the Prince’s choreography – he was the most attentive of partners to Nuñez, their physiques complementing each other in rare fashion and their understanding of each other so developed that their duet work became that of two halves of a whole.  His solo and entry in the final coda were born of the purest classicism, nothing forced, everything just as it should be in dancing of proportion and harmony – when something as seemingly simple as the landing from a jump becomes a moment of genuine beauty, one understands that Muntagirov is a classical dancer of rare accomplishment.

Koen Kessels underpinned this outstanding company performance with a lush yet spirited account of Tchaikovsky’s remarkable score, the orchestra’s sections each contributing to the impressive whole, from tangy brass and warm string sound to characterful woodwind.  In short, Sir Peter’s birthday has been marked in style by this revival which stands alongside that of his Giselle – the grand old man of British ballet certainly understands the theatre and ballet, and The Royal Ballet must count itself lucky to possess two such fine productions; on the evidence of this month they continue to cherish them.

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