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The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


For more than 30 years now Sir Peter Wright’s gift to the city that gave his ballet company a new home has become the herald to announce the coming festive season

Sit back as the lights dim, hear Tchaikovsky’s overture rising from the dimly lit pit and all the cares of your life drift away. This is the ultimate feelgood ballet with no drama, no tragedy, no aching love story and nobody dies, not even the rats.

Whether a result of a return to something approaching normality, or an escape from the troubles wherever you look in the world, this was the best Nutcracker I can remember. It was bursting with life and vitality and even a technical hitch causing a delay a few minutes into Act II couldn’t disrupt the moment.

The set was refurbished last year, even ballets need redecorating and sprucing up, and there were more changes this year, nothing to frighten the horses or give apoplexy to the traditionalist, just a few tweaks here and there; the rats emerge from the mist in Act II for example, just to let us know they were still around, while the Arabian dance, three men and a woman, (Yaoqian Shang, Gabriel Anderson, Jack Easton, August Generalli) seems to have found a purpose again after a change to a pas de deux left it floundering a little last year. The hint of Arabian Nights sensuality was back.

The story is fairly simple, ballet student Clara’s parents, Dr Stahlbaum and his former ballerina wife (Jonathan Payn and Daria Stanciulescu) are holding a Christmas Eve party and all the great and the good have been invited.

As part of the entertainment in comes the magician Drosselmeyer, danced with suitable arrogance and flamboyance once more by Rory Mackay, aided by his assistant, Gus Payne. 


Momoko Hirata as The Sugar Plum Fairy. Picture: Bill Cooper

Clara, the star of the show, is danced quite beautifully by Beatrice Parma and her brother, Fritz, danced by Matthew Titley, is given more to do this time around. The role has been a bit of a nasty tyke in the past, now we have a touch of the Just Williams and he is leader of a gang you suspect all go round with pockets full of string, stuff, marbles and the odd catapult and penknife.

Theeexcellent children, incidentally, come from BRB’s Dance Trackexcellent children, incidentally, come from BRB’s Dance Track programme, Elmhurst Ballet School and Royal Ballet junior associates.

As always, for those who like their dancing on the slow side, we have the Grandfather played by Michael O’Hare, with his ballet equivalent of the dad’s dance, a sort of military one-step, and shaking a tailfeather, slowly, is grandmother danced by Karla Doorbar, embracing a character role for once in what is a break from dancing Clara, quiet delightfully, for as long back as I can remember.

Drosselmeyer brings his novelty acts to the show Harlequin (Shuailun Wu), Columbine (Rachele Pizzillo) and Jack-in-the-Box (Eric Pinto Cata) with their lively dances as well as giving Clara her gift, a Nutcracker doll in the form of a prince - which is sort of the key to the whole story.


Mathias Dingman as The Prince. Picture: Bill Cooper

The party eventually ends, everyone goes home, the family head off to bed, Fritz being stopped from taking his present of a box of toy soldiers with him - which turns out to be quite lucky.

In the silent night as midnight strikes, Clara creeps downstairs into one of the most wonderful transformation scenes found in any production on any stage anywhere in the world – phenomenal stagecraft as the tree and fireplace grow into a dark and sinister scene.

That takes us into the fantasy world with King Rat, played by Callum Findlay-White, leading his rat pack from the fireplace into battle with the Nutcracker prince, danced by Gus Payne, and Fritz’s box of toy soldiers.

Victory for the good guys, with the Nutcracker transformed to Mathias Dingman’s Prince, and its another transformation and off to see the snow fairy, Yu Kurihara and her attendants and winds - cue snow machine, stage blizzard and interval.

The second act opens with Clara flying on a goose to a strange land conjured up by Drosselmeyer in another skillful transformation from designer John Macfarlane.

Here we see the speciality dances, the sombreroed Spanish Dance (Sofia Liñares, Miles Gilliver and Javier Rojas), the reworked Arabian Dance, the fun Chinese Dance (Riku Ito and Gus Payne), the Cossack inspired Russian Dance (Louis Andreasen, Ryan Felix and Callum Findlay White) and the Dance of the Mirlitons (Rosanna Ely, Reina Fuchigami, Rachele Pizzillo and Emma Price).

The waltz of the flowers saw Miki Mizutani dancing delightfully as The Rose Fairy and the magical transformation of Clara into The Sugar Plum Fairy, danced with all the grace and charm we have come to expect by Momoko Hirata with Dingman as the dashing prince in the grand pas de deux.

Its all fantasy though and a tired Clara is carried home and the stage returns back to her home in another classy transformation, and she awakes on Christmas morning.

As always, Birmingham’s other world renowned symphony orchestra, The Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Thomas Jung, bring the symphonic score to vibrant life.

It is a ballet and score you never tire of, danced on Press night to near perfection while the music, even if you have never heard of The Nutcracker, is always familiar, even if the only reason is because you happen to like Cadbury's Fruit and Nut. It is a wonderful, stunning ballet, beautifully staged and with a story that is simple and easy to follow.

If you have never been to a ballet and want to give it a try, this is as good as any for a starter, a lovely, simple ballet with lots of variety, wonderful music and dancing able to delight all ages.

It's a feelgood production which will send you home with a smile, a warm glow and the festive spirit knocking at your door. To 09-12-23

Roger Clarke



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