Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker - The Best Possible Start to 2018

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The Royal Ballet The Nutcracker  1 Jan 2018 19:00 Royal Opera House

Even though it is a silly story not greatly enhanced by Sir Peter Wright's prologue and epilogue The Nutcracker never fails to draw the crowds. Particularly in the United Kingdom at Christmas where there are usually several competing productions to choose from.  For many it is their introduction to ballet and the experience is magical.  The score is enchanting, the sets are beguiling and the dancing is breathtaking. Particularly the final pas de deux by the sugar plum and her cavalier.

My lifetime love of ballet was kindled when I was taken as a child to Royal Festival Hall to see the London Festival Ballet's production.  I hope to have sparked a similar love in my 7 year old grandson manqué by taking him to see the Royal Ballet's at Covent Garden on New Year's Day. I ignited a similar spark in his mother when I first took her to her to Covent Garden shortly after she had arrived in this country nearly 30 years ago.  To make the evening particularly memorable, I entertained the child and his mother to dinner in the  amphitheatre restaurant.  The advantage of dining in the restaurant is the guaranteed table for the interval where one can reflect on the show in comfort.

The magic seemed to work for the boy was entranced. "How did they do that?" he whispered to me as Drosselmeyer's workshop morphed into the street where the Stahlbaums lived.  "Clever lighting and set design" I explained during a break for applause. All the way from Bow Street to Lincoln's Inn  Fields where I had parked my car, he skipped, jumped and rotated in imitation of the dancers he had seen on stage.

We saw an excellent cast.  Clara was danced by Leticia Stock who charmed the audience in every scene of the show.  She was partnered by Tristan Dyer as the Nutcracker.  They were guided through the kingdom of the sweets by Thomas Whitehead as Drosselmeyer who comes from my part of the world. On the previous occasions that I had seen this ballet, Drosselmeyer had been danced by Gary Avis whom I admire greatly.  Whitehead delighted me just as Avis would have done. The sugar plum was danced by Fumi Kaneko and William Bracewell was her prince.  Bracewell had been one of my favourite dancers at the Birmingham Royal Ballet and it was good to welcome him to his new company. Both Kaneko and Stock received flowers at the curtain call, a gesture that was appreciated with thunderous applause.

I enjoyed all the divertissements though I was confused  by some of the costumes.  The headgear worn by the Russians seemed more Hungarian than Russian to me and  save for the castanets in the music it was hard to spot anything specifically Spanish when the boy whispered "What sort of dance was that?" However, he now knows what a mirliton. He also spotted Drosselmeyer's trick of transforming a red rose into a white one just before the dance of the flowers. "Would it have been the other way round had Drosselmeyer been danced  by a Lancastrian and not a Yorkshireman?" I mused.

Finally, I should say a word for the corps.  They were magnificent whether as flowers, snowflakes, mice, toy soldiers or guests at Mr and Mrs Stahlbaum's Christmas party.  I felt a surge of pride as the first snowflake ran on stage and presented just as I had done in the Nutcracker intensive in Manchester a few weeks earlier (see KNT Nutcracker Intensive  21 Dec 2017).

I have been coming to Covent Garden regularly for nearly 50 years. The Royal Ballet rarely disappoints me.  Its performance of The Nutcracker was the best possible start to the New Year and a great way to end the holiday season.

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