Be it the towering enormity of the twinkling tree growing out of the floor at Lincoln Center, the epic clash of swords between mice and toy soldiers at the Bastille of Paris, or even swirling snow fairies gliding around your local theatre, Christmas is simply not Christmas without the Nutcracker.
Who doesn’t know the story? Based on Alexander Dumas père’s “The Nutcracker of Nuremberg” and adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the ballet tells the story of eccentric inventor Herr Drosselmeyer, who sets out to break a spell that turned his nephew, Hans-Peter into a nutcracker doll. Drosselmeyer, a mysterious magician and maker of mechanical toys, enlists the help of his young god-daughter Clara as only her pure love and care of the entrapped youth can break the spell. Together, the pair battle an army of mice and travel through magical lands, such as the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.
One of the great classical ballets, The Nutcracker is a perennial Christmas favourite, enjoyed by generations, drawn to the sounds of one of Tchaikovsky’s most intoxicating scores and the enchanting allure of this charming tale of supernatural adventures on Christmas Eve.
And this Christmas, at London’s Royal Opera House, this beloved Christmas tale is brought to life by the lavish designs of Julia Trevelyan Oman, who incorporates vivid colour with the fine detail of late 19th Century grandeur to complement Sir Peter Wright’s production and hypnotic reinterpretation of Lev Lvanov’s universally acknowledged choreography. All set to the conduction of Koen Kessles, who leads the Royal Opera Orchestra through the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classics, including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”
Celebrating its 25th year this season, the Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker surpasses expectations and breathes new magic into a timeless classic. Whether it was the range of emotions poignantly expressed by Gary Avis (Drosselmeyer) over the course of the story or Iohna Loots’ endearing and charming portrayal of Clara or Thomas Bedford’s lively and entertaining animation of the role of young Fritz, Clara’s brother, the company certainly delivered a performance worthy of such an anniversary.
But the crown jewel of the performance (no surprise here) was prima ballerina Miyako Yoshida as the Sugar Plum Fairy, whose effortless grasp of the complex choreography was combined with an intrinsic grace only to be found in those who have been dancing at the head of their companies for at least a decade, as Ms. Yoshida has in fact done. Her dances with cavalier prince Steven McRae instantly won over the hearts of the audience, reminding them precisely why the Nutcracker is a ballet for people of all ages. Ms. Yoshida, after 14 years with the company, has announced her retirement from the Royal Ballet, and on December 2nd, she will slip on her pointe shoes and tiara for one last dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
So while you may think, when it comes to the Nutcracker, you’ve done it all, seen it all before, if in London this winter—think twice. It is the nuance of production, the vibrancy of the costumes, the reinterpretation of a new generation of choreographers and dancers which constantly renews this classic tale of magic, wonder and love and keeps us coming back each and every holiday season.
The Royal Opera House, London. www.roh.org
Photos by Bill Cooper