For a 20th century adaptation of a 19th century ballet, Peter Wright’s Nutcracker has endured remarkably well.
Created in 1990 for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet’s move to its home in Birmingham, it has notched up over 400 performances and forms the central plank of the company’s Christmas programme. It’s not hard to see why.
This version is designed to be family-friendly without overdosing on sentimentality; it is sweet without being saccharine, exciting without being scary and designed to entrance the eye. The challenge of retooling it for the cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall has been met by inventive video projection and new sets and while there are some losses, this singular production grows in stature as it progresses.
On a thrust stage Drosselmeyer’s atelier with silhouetted figures is present from the start, to be replaced by a slightly odd-looking Christmas tree that emerges through the glass panelled doors. The mirrored rear wall serves a dual purpose: it gives the illusion of doubling the number of dancers while conjuring the image of a music box ballerina. But it is the projections on the rear wall of the hall that make the eyes grow wide with delight. The transformation scene as Clara is shrunk to mouse size is effected by the Christmas tree growing up the sides of the stage, presaged by whirring cogs and wheels and enhanced by several huge festive baubles that descend from above.
After an aimless start with children running around and some rubbishy magic tricks from Drosselmeyer – apart from the restoration of the Nutcracker doll whose separated head slides back onto his body across the stage – the production gets a grip on itself. Wright’s choreography is seamlessly woven into Lev Ivanov’s original fabric and the grand ensembles – the Snowflakes Dance, The Flower Waltz – are as thrilling as can be. So, too, is the grand pas de deux, performed here with unhurried majesty by Momoko Hirata as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cesar Morales as the Prince.
There is a visual logic at work with the toy soldiers, dolls and national figurines all springing to life as a result of Clara’s imagination conspicuously manipulated by Drosselmeyer. As for the Wishee-Washee Chinese divertissment it is surely time to ring the changes on this wrong-headed variation. Otherwise, this is a successful makeover of an intelligently conceived and beautifully executed crowd-pleaser.