Tchaikovsky’s ballet is as much part of the seasonal fare as turkey, Christmas trees and Rudolph jumpers. The world-renowned Imperial Ice Stars from Russia return with its version of the story of the little girl who falls for an enchanted nutcracker-prince and visits a magical land of sweets.
At one level this is a series of extraordinary demonstrations of daredevil skill with skaters leaping, spinning, throwing partners, performing acrobatics, often sliding to a halt inches from the edge of the ice-rink stage. The choreography and execution are equally slick and applause is frequent regardless of the point in the story. As an aesthetic experience, the most satisfying moments are those in which the skaters truly become dancers: as Marie (not Clara in this version), 16-year-old Mariia Vygalova, ably partnered by Vladislav Lysoi, has the fluid grace of a ballerina and the emotional variety of an actress.
The potentially frightening aspects of the sinister visitor Drosselmeyer (Aleksei Vasilev) and the evil Mouse King (Mikhail Kirsanov) are played down, but the squabbling, playful children in the first scene and, later, the snowflake chorus (whose skirts, sparkling with tiny lights, bring a gasp), are highlights. Although the Sugar Plum Fairy lacks distinctive costume or style, the Arabian Dancers (Diana Malygina and Mariya Kayl) perform a daring airborne sequence and the Spanish, Chinese and Russian contingents are elegant, humorous or colourful. The live London Concert Orchestra is glimpsed only briefly on a screen which then transforms into a snowy, cosy or exotic backdrop.