The Holy Treenity
Completing this year’s triumvirate of Nutcrackers in London, Birmingham Royal Ballet have taken over the Royal Albert Hall for a few days to sometimes spectacular effect. Unfortunately there’s also a lot of slack and a sense that the production doesn’t quite fill the venue’s enormous space. Unlike English National Ballet’s in-the-round productions that spread across the whole floor of the Hall, BRB have chosen a more traditional front-facing stage that protrudes about half-way but is completely wing-less. Apart from various props that whizz on and off, the only real set is Drosselmeyer’s clever little shop that opens the show and a set of rotating panels that line the back of the stage, on top of which sits the orchestra.
The first half of the show is where all the special effects happen. The transformation scene is a vast video projection plastered all over one side of the Hall that operates concurrently with a group of giant baubles descending from the roof; it should look impressive but somehow doesn’t quite hit the mark. Far more successful is the Snowflakes scene where snow inevitably falls from above but it looks absolutely beautiful. Generally though, things drag. Notoriously, there’s not much dancing in the first act of The Nutcracker and there’s not enough people on stage to give a sense of spectacle. On a pettier note, Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks are a bit rubbish – you can even see the wire on his floating ball, clear as day.
The second act is visually much plainer, the dancers only having some frosted mirrors and a circus entrance for company (there are video projections lurking around but they’re way up high and, certainly from the lower seats, you don’t really notice them). However, this is where all the best dancing is, the highlights of which were Delia Mathews’ thoughtful Arabian, an energetic Spanish from Maureya Lebowitz, Gabriel Anderson and Miles Gilliver, and a superb Waltz of the Flowers with the always exquisite Céline Gittens at its heart. Can we not, though, get rid of the pointy fingers from the Chinese Dance? There really is no justification for it.
Somewhat strangely, César Morales’ Nutcracker abandons Karla Doorbar’s Clara to perform the grand pas with Momoko Hirata’s Sugar Plum Fairy. He has lovely line and glides effortlessly across the floor but his performance didn’t ignite. Hirata is a very precise dancer, her movements sometimes a little too sharp and sudden to create magic, but as a pair she and Morales gave a decent account. Clara is something of an empty vessel as a character – all dumbstruck wonder with no personal development – but she was danced prettily by Doorbar. The other main figure is Drosselmeyer, who essentially holds the ballet’s thin narrative together, but he felt a bit lame with no real purpose other than to go to ludicrous lengths to give his young niece a nice present (which, now I write it, sounds kinda creepy). Still, overall, BRB’s Royal Albert Hall Nutcracker is a perfectly acceptable night out and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Koen Kessels were terrific.