The Nutcracker – Birmingham Royal Ballet: O2 Arena, London, 30 December 2011

Pretty BallArena

Hands up if you love Christmas. BRB end the year in style.

The Royal Ballet started this arena lark back in the summer with Romeo and Juliet. Five months later and Birmingham Royal Ballet have a pop at the self-same O2 Arena with Peter Wright’s classy Nutcracker.

The company made a significant difference from the Royal in bringing a proscenium which enabled a full staging complete with scene changes and detailed lighting. They also provided an extended stage that jabbed out into the stalls; this worked well when the dancers stepped forward to strut their stuff but did mean that any action at the back was a long way away indeed, even from those in the front seats. The use of just one film screen above the stage for close-ups was less of distraction than the three on offer for Romeo and Juliet and shifting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia down to floor level gave a more intimate feel.

The dancing was impressive. Angela Paul danced prettily as Clara and carried the story well. Iain Mackay was a strong as ever although his Sugar Plum looked a little out of allsorts. Perhaps the best performance of the night came from Céline Grittens who stood out with her quick feet and musicality in the easy-to-look-bad role of the Rose Fairy.

In an effort to get bums on seats X-Factor winner Joe McElderry was dragged in to introduce the show. While it’s good that he might have brought in a few newcomers to ballet it’s not entirely clear what yodelling a few Christmas carols actually brought to the occasion.

Despite his best/worst efforts, the O2 was barely half-full indicating that the future of Arena Ballet is far from certain. A shame really, as I was just getting used to the place.

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