Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB at the O2, December 2011

Ballet under the big top of the O2 — can it work, or is the audience too far away to see the dancers clearly? Sitting behind the raked tiers of seats, the view was clear if distant, but a closer view was shown on a big screen above the stage. This was very cleverly done, and for example in the Act II dance of the Mirlitons where Clara dances with the four of them, on the screen you see just her and two Mirlitions, providing close-ups and the full effect at the same time. Peter Wright helped revamp his own production for the huge space of the O2, and it works very well.

All photos by Bill Cooper

The dancing was super, and apart from the Rose Fairy in Act II being blithely off the music, most of it was first rate. This was the final performance on December 30th, and Angela Paul was a memorable Clara — she has the looks and the charm, and those close-up screenings gave her a magical presence. The real magician of course is Drosselmeyer with his flowing cape, a role Robert Parker portrayed with great panache, assisted by the acrobatic Tzu-Chao Chou. And talking of acrobatics, Joseph Caley was a remarkable Jack-in-the-Box in his hugely baggy trousers.

King Rat

After the guests have left the party in Act I and midnight has struck, the Christmas tree grows to such a vast size that we see only the bottom branches with huge candles, creating the impression that Clara has become as small as the nutcracker doll and the mice. It’s an Alice in Wonderland-like illusion, and then as we enter the wonderland realm of Act II those set piece character dances were beautifully performed, with Clara occasionally joining in. In his original story, E.T.A. Hoffmann mixes the real and magical worlds very cleverly, and having the real Clara in her nightdress join in with some of these fantastic characters from Spain, Arabia, China, and Russia, along with Mirlitons from the Land of Sweets, and flowers too, is a nice touch. The Spanish dance was brilliantly performed, with Maureya Lebowitz as the girl, and the final pas-de-deux with Iain Mackay as the Nutcracker Prince and Jenna Roberts as the Sugar Plum Fairy was excellent. His coupé-jetés were brilliantly executed and their partnership was flawlessly musical.

Waltz of the Flowers

Tchaikovsky’s music was well conducted by Koen Kessels, and though I miss the acoustics of the theatre, this is a super opportunity for the Birmingham Royal Ballet to show their talents to a wide audience. It’s not my choice of venue, but the more people who go to see serious ballet the better!

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