When I went: 4 January 2017
Location: Royal Opera House, London
Performers: The Royal Ballet; Anna Rose O’Sullivan (Clara); Tristan Dyer (Nutcracker / Hans-Peter); Claire Calvert (Sugar Plum Fairy); Reece Clarke (Prince); Gary Avis (Drosselmeyer)
Creative team: Dominic Grier (conductor), Peter Wright (choreographer), Tchaikovsky (composer)
Approximate price: £150
Special points: Staging
Best bit: Arabian dancers / Russian dancers
If I could change one thing: More conflict in the story
The Nutcracker, like Swan Lake, is one of those ‘classic’ ballets that you feel like you should go to at least once, if you like ballets. Having somehow never seen it, I was pleased to get tickets at the Royal Opera House (which sold out very quickly). There are several famous pieces of music within the whole ballet, especially within Act II, that you will recognise even if you think you don’t know the music – including the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (which uses the celeste, also featured in The Planets), and the Dance of the Reed Flutes.
The story itself is a classic Russian fairytale, including toys coming to life, romance (in an innocent form), ethnic set-pieces and beautiful background scenes, elements that are also found in Stravinsky‘s ballets. There isn’t much darkness in the Nutcracker; this is good if you want to take children along for a Christmassy treat, but occasionally I would have liked a bit more conflict or threat from some of the characters, to add some bite to the story.
The dancing, as you would expect from the Royal Ballet, was superlative, especially from Claire Calvert as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Anna Rose O’Sullivan as Clara. The staging was equally impressive, with a Christmas tree getting bigger and bigger as it was revealed and the frozen lake rendered especially beautifully.
The set-pieces in Act II were probably best-received by the audience, as you might expect. The Arabian dancers were slick and gave off a vibe of enjoying themselves, and although the Chinese dancers’ part was short, it was perfectly executed. The Russian dancers were really fun to watch as well. I wonder how many people in the audience were, like me, wishing that they could move with the grace and fluidity of these performers and turn their hands (and feet) to these different styles of dance with ease.
The end of the ballet saw more curtain calls than I am used to, even as a regular theatre-goer; but surely nobody could begrudge the performers and conductor the many rounds of applause they received, and the bouquets for Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy (although I did wonder why the other performers didn’t also get flowers? They worked really hard!). I would definitely recommend the Nutcracker if you can catch it – it seems to come around each Christmas and is perfect if you want to enjoy a classic ballet with the family.