No matter how many versions of The Nutcracker we are offered, no matter how many attempts are made to make the story relatable for a modern audience, Sir Peter Wright’s production for The Royal Ballet, with Julia Trevelyan Oman’s opulent design, stands as a glittering example of how tradition is sometimes unbeatable.
A few technical glitches sporadically stole the limelight on the opening night - particularly in the Act I transformation pas de deux where the usually billowing backdrop appeared to have December gales battering through its folds. Several times I thought I spotted someone with a torch scuttling backstage like a mouse soldier gone rogue, and then came the announcement that Sarah Lamb - the scheduled Sugar Plum - had been taken ill and was to be replaced by Marianela Nunez.
Though the news was met with respectful sympathy, the revelation of Lamb’s replacement triggered audible ripples of enthusiasm and Nunez did not disappoint. She has become the most sublimely nuanced dancer - every step beginning like a fresh sentence in the richest conversation, and though Wright’s Sugar Plum requires a dignified adherence to classical technique, she shades between the symmetry with palpable warmth and care.
Melissa Hamilton (notably debuting as The Sugar Plum Fairy this month) is also flawless casting in the Arabian Dance - her naturally paradoxical air of austerity and sensuality merging hypnotically with the smoky, languid choreography.
The true star of any Nutcracker, however, is always Tchaikovsky’s superlative score, and here it gleams under Barry Wordsworth’s sensitive hand. As Herr Drosselmeyer whips up delight with his magical tricks on stage, Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra create real magic below.