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The Nutcracker

Malvern Theatres

*****

AS part of its 2015/16 Live Cinema Season, The Royal Opera House live streamed this superb production of The Nutcracker to cinemas around the globe.

Performed by The Royal Ballet and choreographed by Peter Wright (after Lev Ivanov), The Nutcracker was truly enchanting to watch.

As the lights in Malvern Theatres dim, on screen we are given an enthusiastic introduction to the evening’s entertainment and the Royal Opera House by former Royal Ballet Principal Darcey Bussell and BBC television presenter Ore Oduba.

We hear a few words from Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare and an excited Gary Avis, who is about to take to the stage as magician and inventor Herr Drosselmeyer. We are shown backstage, where we see footage of earlier rehearsals, and are guided through the 30 year old set and the 600 costumes dating back to the original 1984 production and still in use.

The team seems nervous about the many scene changes and technical tricks (including the mysteriously growing Christmas tree) which of course run smoothly and add yet more wonder to an already beautiful set.

The cameras scan the opulent Royal Opera House as well as some of the settling audience and then there is quiet. The orchestra enters, there is applause and then there is music. It does feel strange watching and listening to an audience who are watching and listening to a live production, and at first I felt rather envious of the people who were actually there, soaking up the atmosphere of the live venue. But as soon as the camera gave us close ups of the musicians and their conductor, Boris Gruzin, I realised that of course we’d have the better view of proceedings by far.

As the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House started to play Tchaikovsky’s superb score, I decided I would be quite happy if that was the night’s entertainment, as it is so beautiful on its own. However, the curtain soon rose, and the ballet itself began.

The story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King is well known by many, but I would certainly recommend reading any information on the programme if attending such a production and unfamiliar with the work, as there is a certain assumption that the background to the tale is already understood. Once the action begins, it is clear where certain scenes take place and what is happening – Drosselmeyer closing up his workshop, a Christmas party at the Stahlbaums’. However, the back story would be harder to fathom; the fact that Drosselmeyer once killed half of the mouse population and that his nephew Hans-Peter was therefore turned into a nutcracker doll might not be easily guessed at. This is the basis of the adventure though, and the Nutcracker sets out to kill the Mouse King and win Clara’s love to break the spell and become human once more.

Every single dancer is captivating, and the children incredibly talented and confident as we also see from brief interviews with them in the interval after Act 1. As Clara and Hans-Peter, Francesca Hayward

and Alexander Campbell were brilliant throughout as was Gary Avis as Drosselmearabian danceyer. Olivia Cowley   stood out in her Arabian dance, showing great poise and precision, and all of the male dancers showed incredible strength, but for me the highlight was the interaction between Lauren Cuthbertson and Nehemiah Kish as The Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince.

I found Lauren Cuthbertson mesmerising and could have watched far more of her. The earlier fight scenes between mice and soldiers, although high in action, paled in comparison to this standard of technical excellence and finesse.

At all times, the camerawork was clearly planned in detail so that we focused on exactly the right dancers or parts of the stage at precisely the right time. There were clockwork characters and toy soldiers, violent mice and gliding angels.

Olivia Cowley in a sultry Arabian dance

We travelled through The Land of Snow, The Kingdom of Sweets and The Sugar Garden of The Palace, seeing golden sleighs and falling snow and thousands upon thousands of sequins. A perfect Christmas outing.

Or almost. My only slight niggles would be the quality of the programme (a black on white fold it yourself piece of A4 paper) and the handling of the end of the first half and the end of the whole production.

After Act 1 the cameras at the Royal Opera House returned to Darcey Bussell and Ore Oduba and then there was some information about other productions, before a fifteen minute interval was announced.

However, the lights at Malvern had already come up, so half of the audience was talking and starting to move whilst the other half was trying to see and hear what was still on screen. Similarly at the end of the ballet, most of the Malvern audience seemed to be enjoying watching the cast take their bows and applause, when cameras there went too soon to Darcey Bussell and again the lights in Malvern came on so some people started to leave. Not a major point but it did seem a shame to not quite get that detail right, meaning many people felt like they were being rushed out of their seats and missing out on some of the atmosphere from the actual venue.

Overall though this was a fantastic production and I’d recommend looking up the rest of the Royal Opera House’s Live Cinema Season, as well as the ballets coming up in Malvern in February 2016 from The Russian State Ballet of Siberia. These include Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and will be accompanied by a live orchestra. I can’t wait.

Amy Rainbow

16-12-15 

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