Fumi Kaneko talks about dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy here.
You know what they say: Christmas is not Christmas without The Nutcracker and few, if any, productions of this enchanting ballet are guaranteed to generate that magical, feel-good feeling associated with the festive season as much as Peter Wright’s for The Royal Ballet.
Danced to Tchaikovsky’s lush, eloquent and much-loved score, played live by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, with sumptuous designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman containing a wealth of Biedermeier detail, this Nutcracker has been slightly tweaked over the years to make it as near perfection as possible.
Act I is the Christmas Eve party at the German home of the well-to-do Stahlbaum family. With its adults in a flurry of socialising and a gaggle of impeccably drilled children drawn from the Royal Ballet School, everywhere you look there’s a little drama going on. And that’s even before we mention the imposing Christmas tree.
Clara, a young girl on the verge of adolescence, is given a nutcracker doll by the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, and come midnight true magic happens.
Act II is set in the Kingdom of the Sweets where Clara and her nutcracker, returned to his human form as Drosselmeyer’s nephew Hans-Peter following a fierce battle with an army of giant mice, enjoy and take part in a series of divertissements, before we reach the culmination of the ballet, the Grand Pas de Deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.
A month-long run of the ballet will offer a wide variety of casts to choose from.On opening night the emblematic Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux was danced by principals Yasmine Naghdi and Matthew Ball.
Yasmine Naghdi as Sugar Plum Fairy, Matthew Ball as her Prince in The Nutcracker, The Royal Ballet © ROH 2017. Photo: Karolina Kuras
A strong technician, Yasmine Naghdi was a regal Sugar Plum Fairy, her lines clean and poised; Matthew Ball a safe and attentive partner.
Other casts to look out for include Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, Natalia Osipova and Reece Clarke, Fumi Kaneko and William Bracewell, and Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae.
The role of the magician Herr Drosselmeyer, who orchestrates most of the action, will be split between The Royal Ballet’s character dancers; but no Drosselmeyer owns the stage with the mesmerising assurance of the veteran Gary Avis, surely the best dance actor of his generation.
Gary Avis as Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. The Royal Ballet © 2022. Photo: Asya Verzhbinksy
On opening night Isabella Gasparini took on the role of Clara, her fresh, clean dancing hinting at that threshold between childhood and adolescence; her Nutcracker/Hans-Peter was James Hay, a vital and compelling dancer.
Isabella Gasparini as Clara, James Hay as Hans-Peter in The Nutcracker © The Royal Ballet 2022. Photo: Asya Verzhbinsky
Ensemble numbers, such as the Dance of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers, showcase the corps de ballet, which is likely to settle properly as the run goes on; and the divertissements in Act II show off the company’s talented soloists.
On opening night, the chemistry between Melissa Hamilton and Lukas B Brændsrød, of which we’d had a tantalising glimpse in the previous A Diamond Celebration programme, stood out in the Arabian dance divertissement. We hope it’ll be further explored in programmes to come.
Whichever cast you pick, though, this is one Nutcracker that should not be missed.
Guidance: Suitable for all, but bear in mind that two-and-a-half hours may prove too much for the attention span of younger children.
|What||The Royal Ballet, The Nutcracker review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
06 Dec 22 – 14 Jan 23, 19:30 Matinees available, consult website Dur: 2 hours 30 mins inc one interval
|Website||Click here to book|