The Nutcracker review at the Royal Opera House, London – ‘utterly delightful’
It is Nutcrackers a-go-go this season, with English National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet dusting off their own versions to compete with The Royal Ballet’s traditional confection. Peter Wright’s elegant hand is apparent in the tweaks he has made to a ballet that has gone through more transformations than Dr Jekyll. Cherry picking elements from his Birmingham Royal Ballet version, he refreshed this version in 2001 and it looks better than ever. All the elements are present and correct – the dance of the children, the awesome expanding Christmas tree, the battle between the wooden soldiers and the marauding mice and the spangled entertainments in the Kingdom of Sweets.
If this version errs on the saccharine side it is hardly a cause for criticism. Gary Avis swirls his turquoise cloak in style as Drosselmeyer, the magician and manipulator of the action, while the pairing of Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell as Clara and Hans-Peter is a delight throughout. If some of the first act sequences are a bit rushed – the magic tricks could do with a bit of air to make them more effective and the battle between the mice and the toy soldiers lacks definition – there are enormous compensations in Act II.
The octet of angels who roll around the stage as if on casters are outstanding and the grand pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Iana Salenko) and the Prince (Steven McRae, on fire throughout) just about stops the show. Dressed to delight and engineered to enchant, this jettisons the more nightmarish elements of ETA Hoffmann’s story and delivers a sackful of visual gifts. Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary score receives a warm and expressive reading from the ROH Orchestra under the benign baton of Boris Gruzin. Consider this an early Christmas present.