Jessica Harris is enchanted by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome.
This year’s production of The Nutcracker by Birmingham Royal Ballet is truly sumptuous. Integration of projection and lighting effects within the performance creates, at times, an immersive experience, and a reminder that you really are back in the theatre.
The use of ambience in this adaptation is everything: choreography, set, costumes and stunning effects are used to create atmosphere. The opening party in the Stahlbaum’s drawing room, had a levity about it that was very appropriate for a gathering on Christmas Eve. The sibling rivalry between Fritz and Clara, who has been given a Nutcracker doll by the magician Drosselmeyer, was portrayed with humour and showed us a state of affairs which many parents will recognise.
After the guests have left and all, except for Clara, have gone to bed, the toys come to life. They dance, but they are agitated and uneasy; the auditorium is flooded with projections of cog wheels and pine needles. Tension builds and we anticipate what is to come. As the Nutcracker comes to life, he leads his army of toy soldiers into battle with the giant rats. In the deepening shadows of the stage, we see the rats harassing Clara in a scene which feels uncomfortably contemporary.
She fights back and, with the Rat King conquered, the Nutcracker, now a handsome prince, leads Clara into the enchanting world of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Snow falls on the stage and around the auditorium. As Clara watches the dances presented to her by the Sugar Plum Fairy, we are as entranced as she is by the display and by the surroundings. The world is indeed a magical place.
Clara, danced by Reina Fuchigami, was wonderfully portrayed as a young girl on the cusp of adulthood. The grand pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by Yijing Zhang, and the Prince, danced by Yasuo Atsuji, was a combination of strength, beauty and emotion. The pointe work of both Zhang and Fuchigami was remarkable.
The Arabian Dance was a joy to watch: under a soft purple light, the dancers were restrained, almost sculpted, and made a wonderful contrast to the high energy of the Chinese and Russian Dances.
The role of Drosselmeyer was danced by Valentin Olovyannikov, his conjuring tricks adding both to the magic of the production and to his control over proceedings as effective Master of Ceremonies. This adaptation had an added a twist by giving him a speaking role, using the voice of actor Simon Callow – something of a surprise within the form of classical ballet.
As snowflakes and other roles, BRB’s other dancers were strong, and, notwithstanding the occasional misstep, it was great to see the whole company able to perform on stage once more.
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia sat above the stage in full view, raising them to a well deserved status, and adding to the immersive quality of the production.
After thirty years, Sir Peter Wright’s legendary production of The Nutcracker will be undergoing a major renovation before returning to the stage in November 2022. This has allowed BRB the opportunity to present a special adaptation of their London production on their home stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome this year.
For me, this adaptation worked, and worked well. And, yes, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Choreography was by Peter Wright, Lev Ivanon and Vincent Redmon, and the production was created by David Bintley.
The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 12th December. Further information.
Pics – Bill Cooper