Sunday, 30 December 2018
The Nutcracker returns to the Royal Albert Hall
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Birmingham Royal Ballet The Nutcracker 29 Dec 2019 14:00 Royal Albert Hall
Each of the five largest ballet companies of the United Kingdom has a version of The Nutcracker in its repertoire. I have seen all of them at one time or another and the ones that I like best which are Scottish, Northern's and the Birmingham Royal Ballet's more than once. If I had to choose one it would be Peter Wright's production for the BRB. Last year I saw it in the Hippodrome in Birmingham. Yesterday I saw it upscaled fro the Royal Albert Hall.
This was not the first time I had seen ballet in that auditorium. On previous occasions, I had seen Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake in the round performed by the English National Ballet. Birmingham Royal Ballet used the space quite differently. They created a stage at one end of the floor above which they positioned the orchestra. On either side of the stage, they placed enormous screens upon which all sorts of images such as pine branches and baubles to represent a growing Christmas tree and falling snow for the snow scene. Seating was installed in the part of the floor not used as a stage and the gallery was closed off altogether. My view from the centre of the Rausing circle was comparable to the view from the front of the amphitheatre at Covent Garden.
The libretto was very similar to the one for the version that I had seen at the Hippodrome last year and used about the same number of dancers. The one big difference was a voiceover by Simon Callow which was probably harmless enough but not particularly necessary. He was supposed to represent Drosselmeyer who was already represented in dance more than adequately by Rory Mackay. What rankled a little bit with me was that Callow spoke in a thick continental accent that made Drosselmeyer appear to be some kind of foreigner which was unlikely as he was Clara and Fritz Stahlbaum's godfather. Unlike Sir Peter Wright's production for the Royal Ballet, there was no subplot of the nutcracker being Drosselmeyer's nephew imprisoned in wood. Nor were there an,y angels in the Birmingham version.
The other three lead characters yesterday were the Sugar Plum danced by Celine Gittens, her prince Brandon Lawrence and Clara who was Arancha Baselga. On 26 June 2018, I had been captivated by Gittens's portrayal of Juliet although she had been one of my favourites for some time (see MacMillan's Masterpiece 29 June 2018). I chose yesterday's matinee specifically to catch Gittens and I am glad to say that she did not disappoint me. I was too far away to see her face which had been so eloquent when she danced Juliet but her elegance was unmistakable. As in June, she was partnered by Lawrence who demonstrated his strength and virtuosity. Baselga delighted her audience with her energy as she threw herself into the divertissements in Act II. I admired and liked her particularly in the Russians ance as she was tossed from dancer to dancer like a bag of cement.
Another of my favourites is Ruth Briill who danced Clara's grannie with Kit Holder. I had thought of auditioning for that role if and when Powerhouse Ballet ever performs that ballet but having seen Brill in Birmingham's production and Hannah Bateman in Northern's (see Northern Ballet's "The Nutcracker" - All My Favourite Artists in the Same Show 14 Dec 2018) that may be a little bit too ambitious. I had also contemplated auditioning for Mrs Stahlbaum until I saw Yvette Knight's impressive solo. Maybe I could be a rodent but not the rat king like Tom Rogers yesterday.
Plaudits are due to Harlequin, Columbine and the Jack in the Box danced by Gus Payne, Reina Fuchigami and Max Maslen, the Snow Queen (Alys Shee) and each and every one of the dancers in the divertissements in Act II. I particularly liked Laura Purkiss as the Spanish princess and Beatrice Parma as the rose fairy.
I must also congratulate the orchestra and its conductor Koen Kessels whom I had the pleasure of meeting ar the party following the Dutch National Ballet's gala on 8 September 2018. I attended the ballet with the nearest I have to a grandson and his mum who is the nearest I have to a daughter. She was particularly affected by the music saying that it had touched her in a way that previous performances of the score had not/. Clearly, I was not the only one to regard the music as special
Altogether it was one of the best performances of The Nutcracker that I have ever attended and a great way to end the year. It is in the running for my ballet of the year as indeed is the Birmingham Royal Ballet for company of the year. Upon the merger of my chambers with Arden Chambers earlier this year we acquired an annexe at Snow Hill in Birmingham which I intend to use to the full. As I shall be spending far more time in their city I hope to see even more of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and get to know it even better.