Ballet at the Royal Albert Hall is a risky enterprise. Derek Deane’s Swan Lake worked well in the space, but Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker suffers as a consequence of the scale of the venue.
Performed on a thrust stage rather than in-the-round, this version has the orchestra on a high platform beneath the Albert Hall organ, nestled between two huge screens. When projections of snowy forests and fragments of an enormous Christmas tree appear (accompanied by giant ‘glass’ baubles that descend from the ceiling) the Peter Wright/David Bintley production starts to make sense of the cavernous space.
Until that point, Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks are fairly tame, and the dancing too distanced and detached for full engagement. Karla Doorbar is a nimble Clara, precise and poised with an unaffected innocence. César Morales’ Prince is technically fine but lacks the passionate machismo required, opting for a muted, lyricism that smoulders when it should blaze.
The grand pas de deux suffers particularly from this approach, with the orchestra under the confident baton of Koen Kessels providing the soaring grandiloquence missing on the stage below.
Among the delights are the addition of four superb male dancers as Winds, which enhances the well-drilled delicacy of the Snowflakes ensemble. And the beautifully costumed Waltz of the Flowers is visually rapturous, led by Céline Gittens’ ultra-charming Rose Fairy.
Of the national dances, the well-sprung Russian trio is superb and the Arabian Dance invokes Michael Fokine’s exoticism with temple dance gestures combined with the camp eroticism of a Valentino movie. Clara’s wondering look at the end is a neat and mischievous response to Alys Shee’s serpentine sexuality.