An ample sense of Christmas magic from BRB’s ‘chamber’ The Nutcracker at The Rep

United KingdomUnited Kingdom The Nutcracker at The REP: Dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Members of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Paul Murphy (conductor). On demand streaming (for information click here) of live performance from 18.12.2020 at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, available until 24.12.2020 at 20.12.2020 (JO’D)

Momoko Hirata (Sugar Plum Fairy)
& César Morales (Prince) (c) Johan Persson

Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Arr. Rowland Lee)
Original Choreography – Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov, Vincent Redmon
Adaptation – David Bintley
Production – Carlos Acosta, Sean Foley
Designs – John Macfarlane (based on the originals for the Birmingham Royal Ballet stage)
Video and Projection design – Nina Dunn
Lighting design – Johnny Westall-Eyre

Cast included:
The Sugar Plum Fairy – Momoko Hirata
The Prince – César Morales
Drosselmeyer – Jonathan Payn
Clara – Karla Doorbar
The Rat King – Alexander Yap
The Snow Fairy – Alys Shee
Spanish Dance – Beatrice Parma, Gabriel Anderson, Kit Holder
Arabian Dance – Eilis Small, Haoliang Feng, Callum Findlay-White, Alexander Yap
Chinese Dance – Max Maslen, Tzu-Chao Chou
Russian Dance – Ryan Felix, Gus Payne, Shuailun Wu
Mirlitons – Rosanna Ely, Miki Mizutani, Emma Price, Lynsey Sutherland

An adaptation (by Carlos Acosta and Sean Foley) of an adaptation (by David Bintley) of Sir Peter Wright’s production for Birmingham Royal Ballet, this at times ‘chamber’ version of The Nutcracker manages to convey an ample sense of Christmas magic. The story is delicately handled. The designs, adapted from John Macfarlane’s original designs, are striking. The occasional, Covid-compliant bareness of the stage allows the subtleties of Tchaikovsky’s score to be heard more clearly (from Paul Murphy and his musicians), particularly when the music signals a shift, in Act I, from a social gathering in a drawing room to Drosselmeyer’s mysterious realm.

All the essentials are there: sleighs, snowballs, guests arriving at the Stahlbaum’s house, the scrim behind which the drawing room is revealed. The very red dress worn by Mrs Stahlbaum (Eilis Small), ‘a former ballerina’, suggests that even the real can not quite be taken for granted. Velvet-cloaked Drosselmeyer (Jonathan Payn), magician and maker of automata, presents Clara (Karla Doorbar) with the soldier nutcracker. A Nutcracker Doll (Gus Payne) and Sugar Plum Fairy Doll (Momoko Hirata) dance a rather stiff pas de deux and an automaton Jack-in-the-Box (Tzu-Chao Chou), jumps about.

By the end of the party, Clara has experienced burgeoning love for a young cadet. Unable to sleep that night she returns to the drawing room to look for the nutcracker but is suddenly surrounded by rats. Clockwork rats, at first, then wispy-haired dancer-rats. In ragged breeches that mock the elegance of the balletic cavalier, they follow the orders of a King Rat who wears his gold crown over one ear in a mockery of kingship.

The automaton soldier comes to Clara’s aid, and is transformed by Drosselmeyer into a living soldier (César Morales). Snowflakes in tutus of gauze prepare Clara, and the audience, for her entry to the Kingdom of Sweets. An entry that is delayed by an ‘interval’ which jolts us to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s rehearsal studios and interviews with Marion Tait (who recently stepped down from the post of Assistant Director of the company) and Principal Dancer, Samara Downs.

Act II finds Clara standing among the dancers of the ‘national’ dances (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian), who are all presented, at first, as further examples of Drosselmeyer’s automata. This has its logic, even if it misses the essential and disquieting point about automata (which Coppélia captures so well): what they do can only be automatically repeated.

Clara herself takes part in the Spanish, Chinese and Russian dances. She gazes wistfully after the haughty female dancer of the Arabian dance (Eilis Small, again) as she departs with her three male attendants whose torsos are sprinkled with gold. After performing their more serious pas de deux, the soldier and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Mimoko Hirata) bow to her. At Drosselmeyer’s command, the now yawning Clara is carried by the soldier back to the drawing room of Act I and laid down to sleep by the Christmas tree. On waking she looks for the soldier nutcracker. This time – and changed in some way by the experience of her dream – she finds it.

John O’Dwyer

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