Is it my imagination of have there been some excisions in this venerable Nutcracker?
I missed the naughty boys wielding wooden swords in the opening act and terrorising the doll-cradling girls. And where was the prickly exchange between Mrs Stahlbaum and the Dancing Mistress? Given how far the ballet has moved from its origins these alterations suggest a continuous process of sanitisation. It remains a mystery how Marius Petipa on behalf of the Imperial Russian Court was drawn to ETA Hoffmann’s story in the first place. You don’t get to be a prime influence on Edgar Allan Poe without being conspicuously out to lunch. Nussknacker und Mausekonig is the stuff of nightmares. And weird is where it starts.
Peter Wright’s version for the Royal Ballet is cradled in comforting Victoriana. The Christmas Eve party goes with a swing, especially after Drosselmeyer arrives with his bag of magic tricks. The transformation scene is unfailingly awesome as the Christmas tree rises to pierce the roof and Clara – like Alice – shrinks to doll size.
Details are woven into the overall fabric like the tiny girl who leaps and lands perfectly in Grandfather’s lap and the kiss that Clara bestows on Drosselmeyer’s cheek when he mends her Nutcracker doll, broken by the jealous Fritz.
This is an arcane world where boys are made of rats and snails and are nasty and girls are made of sugar and spice and are nice. Someone somewhere is perpetuating gender stereotypes with glee. But Oh! The Russian Angels, skimming the stage as if on casters; and double Oh! the soft sensuality of the Arabian Dance, not so much a quartet as a menage a quatre. And were there ever such flickering, feathery Snowflakes? I think not.
The grand pas de deux nearly finished me off thanks to the perfect collusion between the dancers and the orchestra on golden, spangled form. There are many different Nutcrackers and this is either the gold standard or the most old-fashioned, in spite of tinkering. The fact remains that Lamb and McRae, Hayward and Campbell, Avis and Naghdi are all dancing with tsars in their eyes.