Sunday, 28 January 2018

Nixon's Little Mermaid - Perhaps His Best Work Yet

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Northern Ballet The Little Mermaid 19:15 2 Dec 2017 Sheffield Lyceum

In 2017 in Retrospect 7 Jan 2018 I chose Northern Ballet as my company of the year because of its three, new, full-length ballets:
"These were Kenneth Tindall's Casanova which I had expected to be good and was not disappointed (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017 and Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017). Daniel de Andrade's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which I did not expect to like at all but was moved deeply (see The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet" 10 Sept 2017) and David Nixon's The Little Mermaid which I have yet to review but is, perhaps, his best work yet."
Here is my promised review.

There are many reasons why I liked The Little Mermaid. First, the libretto which follows Hans Christian Anderson's story closely. Secondly, the score. I applaud Nixon's commissioning Sally Beamish who had also composed the music for David Bintley's work, The Tempest (see The Tempest 9 Oct 2016). Thirdly, his casting which provided an opportunity for Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor to shine in leading roles.  Lastly, but by no means least, I admired Kimie Nakano's sets and costumes very much, particularly the underwater scenes in the first act.

The quality of this ballet that impressed me most was the detailed study of the mermaid's psyche,  She exchanged a carefree life below the waves with friends and family for an excruciating and lonely existence on land.  She gave up all that she had for the love of a human.  She did that not once but twice.  She had an opportunity to sink a knife into the prince who had spurned her and thereby return to the sea as a mermaid.  An opportunity that some women would have seized willingly even without the reward of personal transformation. Instead. she chose a path that she thought would lead to self-annihilation.

Much was demanded of the dancer who was to perform that role.  It had to be one of the company's younger members for the mermaid, like Shakespeare's Juliet, was on the cusp of adulthood. Also like Juliet she had to project a range of emotions, some conflicting as she grew up almost overnight,  Prudames was impressive in that role. Earlier in the year I had seen her in the preview (see First Impressions of the Little Mermaid 27 July 2017).  I noted then:
"I also liked some of the extracts, particularly the solo when the mermaid. danced by Abigail Prudames, discovers her new legs. Stranded on the shore she experiences pain for the first time. Prudames communicated that sensation chillingly. Much as Edvard Munch does in The Scream."
Three months on and after several weeks of  performances on tour she was even more impressive.

Though less is demanded of the male lead emotionally, the audience has to understand why the mermaid was prepared to sacrifice so much for him.  He has to be magnetically attractive, dashing and handsome. Taylor showed all of those qualties and more. Brave in the storm and compassionate on finding a beautiful, solitary. voiceless young woman on the shore,  Though captivated by her dancing he remained faithful to his bride.

The bride was danced by Dreda Blow, one of the company's leading soloists. A pretty role that she performed delightfully.

Other important roles were the lord of the sea (Matthew Topliss) who supplied the potion that transformed the mermaid into a human being as well as the knife by which she would have changed back, the mermaid's sisters, Ayami Miyata and Rachael Gillespie, two of my favourite artists who are always a pleasure to watch and the mermaid's affectionate and faithful friend, the seahorse, Kevin Poeung, another dancer whom I like a lot.  The corps had important tasks in the ballet, as sea creatures (or, in some cases, as bearers of such creatures), as sailors, fishermen and villagers. Altogether it was a very polished performance.

I had enjoyed the extracts from Beamish's score in the preview.  Having heard the whole work I liked it even more than her music for The Tempest.  I particularly liked the Celtic allusions that Beamish inserted subtly much in the way that Løvenskiold had done in his score for La Sylphide. There were Scottish or Irish echoes in the men's kilts (plain material without tartans) and in the human characters' names: Adair, Dana and Brina.

This production will visit the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh between the 22 and 24 March 2018. I shall be interested to know what a Scottish audience makes of the kilts and Beamish's score. It will then move on to Milton Keynes (close to two of the company's most devoted fans) in April and round of its tour at Leicester in May. No new full length works this year but with tried and tested favourites like Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre and The Nutcracker the company can expect another good year.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Tamara Rojo at Last! Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and La Sylphide

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English National Ballet La Sylphide and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort  19 Jan 2018 Coliseum

Having chosen to see La Sylphide and The Song of the Earth on 14 Oct 2017 in order to catch Tamara Rojo I was disappointed to watch The Song of the Earth over a flickering monitor with the sound turned down in a noisy bar. The reason for my banishment to the bar was that I arrived at the Palace Theatre a few minutes after the performance had begun. That was because Manchester City Council in its wisdom had seen fit to close Albert Square to traffic without  adequate warning or diversion signs just as crowds were streaming into the city for a night out. The result was chaos and although I found a way round the traffic I could not avoid it entirely.  That was my only low point of the evening and the pleasure of meeting Sarah Kundi, one of my favourite dancers, after the show went a long way to making up for it (see Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth 18 Nov 2018).

Had I seen The Song of the Earth on stage it is unlikely that I would have gone to London on Friday.  I would then have missed one of the most remarkable performances that I have seen in nearly 60 years of ballet going.  It is strange how something that appeared to be a disaster can sometimes turn out for the best. The performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort by Ivan Vasilev and Tamara Rojo was one of the most compelling that I have ever seen.

The work was created by Roland Petit shortly after the Second World War.  We don't see much of Petit's work in this country which is a regrettable because he was an important choreographer.   I have seen only one other work by Petit in a lifetime of ballet going. Petit's muse was his wife Zizi Jeanmaire who was a dramatic dancer with the most captivating eyes.  I never got to see her in real life though I saw her on film in Carmen and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.  Sadly it is no longer possible to see Jeanmaire as the temptress in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort but we can still see Rojo.  I believe that the experience of seeing her in the role is very similar to seeing Jeanmaire. That is not to say that Rojo imitates her predecessor - far from it because Rojo has made the role her own - but she is at least as exciting to watch. Rojo, like Jeanmaire, is a dramatic dancer with striking features and an imperious manner both as the woman and as death.

As my eyes were riveted on Rojo from the moment she appeared at the door, I am not sure that I gave Vasilev the attention that he deserved.  He is another outstanding dancer.  I appreciated his strength and beauty. I marvelled at his virtuosity as he perched on the backs of chairs and leaped over furniture waiting for his visitor.  But it was only when he kicked away his support with his head in a noose that I focused on him fully. As the scene changed from garret to afterlife Rojo drew me back as she emerged as some angel of death.  A ballerina's ballet if ever there was.

I should say a word about Georges Wakhévitch's designs and in Karinska's costumes,  The young man is stripped to the waste in jeans but the woman wears a fluid, canary yellow dress and black gloves in life and a long white dress, death mask and red veil as death.  The next life appears to start on the rooftops of Paris. In the background stands the Eiffel tower advertising Citroën. I never knew that the Eiffel tower was ever used for advertising so I looked it up. According to Sophie Nadeau, it really did happen. For a time the tower was the biggest outdoor advertisement in the world (see Solo Sophie).

The rest of the evening was Bournonville's treasure La Sylphide.  I love that ballet so much. How I would enjoy dancing Madge.  As I said in my review of English National Ballet's performance of La Sylphide in Manchester, I greatly prefer that ballet to Giselle:
"I prefer Løvenskiold's score to Adam's any day and the idea of the ghosts of spurned maidens dancing their lovers - or indeed any other man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - to death gives me the heebie-jeebies. The story in La Sylphide is so much more reasonable even if it does have mythical creatures like sylphs and witches."
I had enjoyed the show in Manchester but I liked Friday night's performance even more. Rina Kanehara was a delightful sylph. Her loyal friend Anna was danced again by Sarah Kundi. I have followed her for years and it is always a pleasure to see her. Joseph Caley portrayed a headstrong James.  I can't help feeling sorry for him. Yes he may have been mean to Madge but he didn't deserve what happened to him.  Had I been Effy I would have forgiven him.  Caley had been one of my favourite dancers at the Birmingham Royal Ballet and it was good to see him in his new company.  Daniel Kraus was a scheming and devious Gurn.  Crystal Costa made a very successful debut as Effy. Life with Gurn. Hmm! Frying pans and fire spring to mind.  Madge makes or breaks a performance of La Sylphide for me and Jane Howarth was a splendid witch. One could almost hear her imprecations.

It had not been easy getting to the theatre from Holborn as the Piccadilly Line was up the creek. I arrived at Leicester Square squashed, squeezed, hot and bothered with hardly any time to spare to pick up my ticket, deposit a heavy brief case and find my seat. I was hardly in the most appreciative frame of mind for an evening at the ballet.  The drama, the choreography. Rojo's  dancing, the brilliance of the work blew all that away. The show finished at 22:00 and my train home was at 22:57.  Plenty of time for a few stops one would have thought. In fact, I needed every single minute as the Piccadilly Line had still not found its paddle by the time the theatres were emptying. And when I arrived at Doncaster I had to drive 35 miles on ungritted roads through falling snow. The excellence of the double bill was well worth those tribulations.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

From Barnsley to Harrogate by way of Moscow and Astrakhan

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Russian State Ballet and Opera Theatre of Astrakhan Romeo and Juliet Royal Hall, Harrogate, 6 Dec 2017. 19:30

The Astrakhan State Opera and Ballet Theatre is nearly 864 miles from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (commonly known as The Bolshoi Ballet Academy) where Tala Lee Turton trained. She is one of a very small number of British students who have studied there. It is one of the most famous ballet schools in the world. Its alumni include Maya Pliesetskaya, Natalia Osipova, Sergei Filin and other great names.

Although I saw her on the stage for the first time only on 6 Dec 2017 I have been following her for several years.  One of the reasons why I followed her is that she comes from Barnsley which is almost the nearest town of any size to my Pennine fastness. The second and more important is that she kept one of the most readable and informative blogs of her time at the Academy.  Ms Lee-Turton has now graduated from the Academy and joined the ballet company of the Astrakhan State Theatre. I am very pleased to see that she has started to blog again and has already written about How to Choose Music to Choreograph To For Classical and Contemporary Dance and Choreography Ideas for Classical Dance - Where Should You Start? 8 Jan 2018.

 By Fred Schaerli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Common
According to Wikipedia Astrakhan is a city of some 520,000 inhabitants in the far South West of Russia not far from the Caspian sea.  It has an interesting history and some impressive buildings including its own Kremlin and the State Theatre.  That theatre was built between 2007 and 2011 and there is a virtual tour on the home page of the theatre website.

Shortly after it was built, Konstantin Uralsky was asked to set up a ballet company for the new theatre.  He recruited young graduates from the Moscow State Academy, the Vaganova Institute of St Petersburg and other Russian ballet schools.

Although the company performs a full season in Astrakhan and tours Russia it also spends a lot of time in the United Kingdom.  I caught up with it at the Royal Hall in Harrogate where it performed Romeo and Juliet on 6 Dec 2017.  I have seen a lot of versions of that ballet by Lavrovsky, Maillot, Pastor, James, Nureyev and, of course, MacMillan but this version was different from any any I had seen before. It was choreographed and staged by Uralsky and had several original touches in its choreography and orchestration. I particularly liked the sword fights.

Considering that the sets and costumes had to be transported all the way from Southern Russia and trundled around the United Kingdom and Harrogate was their last stop I was impressed  by their freshness.  I was similarly impressed by the energy of the dancers.  It was the first cold snap of the Winter and they had been performing more or less continuously since the 14 Oct but they showed no sign of tiredness.

Unfortunately, I have no idea who was on stage on 6 Dec other than Ms Lee-Turton because there were no cast lists and the programme more than one name for several of the roles.  The leads were good as was Tybalt, the nurse Friar Lawrence and Lady Capulet. So, too, were the rest of the cast  but the artists I singled out are entitled to take a special bow.  Ms Lee-Turton, a member of the corps, made two appearances in the crowd scenes.  It was good to see her on stage and to meet her briefly after the show.

A lot of Russian ballet companies tour the United Kingdom these days and they vary enormously in quality. This is one of the better ones. They are well trained and well managed. They bring a full orchestra.  They have a home in Astrakhan where they can rehearse and develop their productions. They are obviously not in the same league as the Bolshoi or Mariinsky but they are still young and they have potential. The population of Astrakhan is about the same as that of Bristol from where Western Theatre Ballet sprang in 1957 or Leeds which is now the home of Northern Ballet.  Would anybody who followed Peter Darrell or Laverne Meyer and their dancers in the early days have anticipated that their troupes would become the world class companies that they are today?  There is no reason why the same should not happen to these artists from Astrakhan.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

2017 in Retrospect

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This is when I review the past year and nominate the best ballet, the best dancers, the best choreographer of 2017 and so on.  I have had less time for blogging than in previous years as I have had to focus on the day job, but I have seen almost as many shows as I ever do.

As a Mancunian living in Yorkshire I was delighted by the renaissance of Northern Ballet, our regional company.  That company has taken a few big hits recently with the floods that destroyed the costumes of some of its best loved ballets and the departure of two of its premier or principal dancers, Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt, to San Diego (see Lisa Deaderick Making the leap from dancer to artistic director 10 Dec 2017 San Diego Tribune 2017). However, it had a very good year last year with three new full length ballets.

These were Kenneth Tindall's Casanova which I had expected to be good and was not disappointed (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017 and Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017). Daniel de Andrade's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which I did not expect to like at all but was moved deeply (see The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet" 10 Sept 2017) and David Nixon's The Little Mermaid which I have yet to review but is, perhaps, his best work yet.  I also enjoyed the company's MacMillan triple bill in Bradford (see Northern Ballet's MacMillan Celebration 4 Nov 2017).

For most of the year I thought Tindall's Casanova would be my ballet of the year but it was pipped at the post on 17 Dec 2017 by Sir Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty performed by the mighty Dutch (see The Dutch National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" - I have waited nearly 50 years for this show 20 Dec 2017). That show with Maia Makhateli as Aurora and Daniel Camargo as Florimund was outstanding. Also, if I had not seen The Sleeping Beauty I would have had to choose Paris Opera House ballet's Don Quixote with Isabella Boylston as Kitri at the Bastille auditorium on Christmas day as my ballet of the year (see Paris Opera's Don Quixote 26 Dec 2017).

Now although I can't say that Casanova was my ballet of the year I can at least say that Tindall was my choreographer of the year.  I must add that it was no walkover. He faced fierce competition from Ruth Brill with her Arcadia which was certainly my one act ballet of the year (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia 22 June 2017) and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for her Reversible for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Little Red Riding Hood for Ballet Black (see Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at the Lowry 19 Feb 2017 and Ballet Black Triumphant 7 March 2017). At this point I need to say that the Dutch National Ballet displayed a wealth of choreographic talent in New Moves 2017.  I was particularly impressed for the second year running with Cristiano Principato and Thomas van Damme. We will hear a lot about both of them before long though I have to say that Tom is showing as much promise as a film maker as he is as a choreographer and there is a lot of overlap between the two.

My ballet of the year (as I have already indicated) was the Dutch National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. Makhateli would have been my ballerina of the year had I not seen Boylston in Paris a week later.  Now she really is a superb virtuoso and dramatic figure and I was so lucky to see her.  Nobody really stood out as male dancer of the year in quite the way that Boylston did but Javier Torres was excellent in Casanova and devastating in Las Hermanas.  Here's what I wrote about him:
"As I noted above, we had a very strong cast. Giuliano Contadini was the poster boy of the show and deservedly so for he danced Casanova very well but Torres was cast perfectly for the role. Powerful, athletic and passionate, he was how I had always imagined the historical Giacomo Casanova. There is a point towards the end when he has to hold a very uncomfortable pose for what must seem like an age. That was when I appreciated just how good he was."
He is also Northern Ballet's sole remaining male premier dancer.

Northern Ballet has more than enough flatterers and fawners not all of whom ever bother to see any other company.  I have never held back from criticizing it when I have felt that criticism was due.   So when I say that it was my company of the year it will know that my compliment is sincere.  I have followed the company ever since its golden age when Christopher Gable was at the helm.  His successor, David Nixon, has also produced fine work such as Madame Butterfly, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cinderella, Gatsby and now The Little Mermaid as well as commissioning Tindall and Cathy Marston.  The company may have lost two premier dancers but it still has first rate artists such as Torres, Hannah Bateman, Dreda Blow and Ashley Dixon not to mention emerging stars like Mlindi Kulashe. Rachael Gillespie and Abigail Prudames.

Finally a very special, self-indulgent award for my best adult ballet experience of 2017.  Being a bit of a show off I love to perform and one of the highlights of my year was dancing in Move It at The Dancehouse on 13 May 2017. The other was taking part in Martin Dutton's Nutcracker intensive on 16 Dec 2017. That was the weekend that I saw a preview of Sharon Watson's Windrush which I expect to be my leading work of 2018 and Peter Wright's The Sleeping Beauty in Amsterdam. "Weekends don't come any better than that" I tweeted. I don't expect another like it in my lifetime.  As both of those events were organized by Karen Sant of KNT I have to grant her the adult ballet teaching award of 2017.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Class Review - Hype Dance Company Revisited

Hype Dance Company, Beginners' Ballet, Instructor Anna Olejnicki, 4 Jan 2017, 18:30 - 19:30

I used to go to Hype a lot when Fiona Noonan taught there (see More than just Hype - Beginners and Improvers Classes in Sheffield 14 May 2014). Fiona taught the beginners and improvers classes while Emily Talks was on maternity leave.  After Emily returned to work I attended one of her classes which I enjoyed very much (see A Different Kind of Ballet Class - Emily Talks at Hype 28 July 2015).  Sadly for me Emily moved to Sydney. Shortly afterwards, I attended a couple of vacation classes in Leeds and an intensive workshop on Swan Lake with Jane Tucker in Manchester. Although Jane's classes are far from easy I like the way she teaches and I attend her classes whenever I can.

Northern Ballet are on vacation this week and my neighbour and contributor, Amelia Sierevogel, wanted to get a class in before Hannah Bateman's Ballet Retreat which starts tomorrowI asked Karen Sant whether there was anything in Manchester but learned that classes at KNT begin on the 8 Jan 2018. Amelia was resigned to pliés on YouTube until I received an email from Hype advertising a half price sale. As I also fancied a class I passed the information onto Amelia and we decided to give it a go.

Hype has moved since I was last there. They used to be near the Chinese quarter not far from the Moor. They are now at 60 Upper Allen Street  which is not far from Paradise Street where the Sheffield bar and most local solicitors are to be found.  I used to have a door tenancy in one of the sets there some 30 years ago.  Even though it has moved from the Chinese area, Hype now shares a building with a Chinese restaurant and it looked quite a good one from the outside. There is plenty of street parking and  I was assured that the traffic wardens are a lot less bothersome.

The new premises are something of an improvement on the old place.   There is a comfortable space to change with a chair and the studios look more like studios than corridors.  The loo does not look like a museum exhibit.  Alex was still there and I recognized at least one of the students from Fiona and Emily's classes.  There are even hooks for clothes and dance bags in the studio.  A nice surprise was that we were admitted for £3 instead of the usual £6.   Part of the January sale.

Our class was taken by Anna Olejnicki and I should say that there were about 12 of us in her class.  All of us were female and the others were considerably younger than me.  One student was completely new to ballet but most seemed to have done some.  All seemed to have a much better idea of what they were supposed to be doing than I did.  We started with some floor exercises. In one we split into teams one student lying face down on the floor trying to push up with the team member other encouraging her.  Karen does something similar in Manchester except she makes us hold our partners' feet and legs to the floor.  Anna gave us a lot of tips such as stand more on your toes than your heels.  She also had quite a store of jokes and anecdotes.

Barre started deceptively easily. Only demis in first and second.  We followed with tendus and ronds de jambe and then the fun started.  Still in teams of 2 we lifted each other's leg until it was quite high and then dropped the support while we struggled to maintain the position.  Not exactly a penché but quite taxing on my poor old bones and muscles.  It soon became clear that this class was not going to be a cake walk. Two particular exercises nearly knackered me.

One started as a glissade but we had to jump high enough so that the feet would connect while still in the air.  I have no idea what that is called but Amelia thought it was some sort of gallop.  We had to do these several tomes as we crossed the studio and then repeat it on the other foot.  Even Amelia exclaimed that it was horrible.

The other exercise that nearly did for me was to perform 4 sautés and then hop 4 times on one leg repeating the exercise on the other leg and then alternately.  The other students were alright but I was terrible.  Karen's exercise of making us stand on demi for several seconds after jumping is bad enough but that was worse.

However, I did get one thing right. I really love my ballet and can't believe my luck that I am still dancing at age 69. So I can't stop smiling. "What's your name?" asked Anna.  After I told her she replied "You were the only one who gave me a smile." I remember that Sir Peter Wright once said something very similar to Ruth Brill and that she dined out on it for ages.

As we had only 60 minutes class was over far too soon. "I'm very old school" said Anna "and I expect a proper curtsy in the reverence."  We all did our best to give her one.   Anna is a very good teacher and I warmed to her a lot.  I would love to attend her class regularly.  Alas, time can't be spent twice and I already spend quite enough tome on the M62 commuting to Jane's class in Leeds and Karen's in Manchester.  I leaned quite a few useful things from her yesterday.  It was a very good start to be New Year,

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.