Nicolette wright

Nicolette Fraillon, The Australian Ballet's music director and chief conductor who will conduct the opening night of  The Nutcracker, in front of Sir Peter Wright, celebrating his 90th birthday, who created the ballet as BRB's gift to Birmingham 26 Christmas's ago

YOU know Christmas is on its way as soon as Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker dances into Birmingham Hippodrome – a production which this year will see its 500th performance.

Sir Peter Wright created his celebrated ballet for Christmas 1990 as a gift to the city when Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet moved from London and into their new home in Thorp Street, next to Birmingham Hippodrome, becoming Birmingham Royal Ballet.

His gift is now universally acclaimed as one the world’s finest productions of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet and on Friday, 25 November, Sir Peter will celebrate his 90th birthday by joining the opening night audience for his masterwork.

And wielding the baton for opening night will be renowned conductor Nicolette Fraillon, Music Director and Chief Conductor of The Australian Ballet - the world's only woman music director of a ballet company incidentally.

She will be conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia for ten of the 26 Birmingham performances and is a former Chief Conductor with the National ballet of the Netherlands. She has worked with renowned choreographers such as Hans van Manen, Rudi van Dantzig and Krzystof Pastor and she returned to her home country as Director of the Australian National University’s School of Music in 1998, moving to The Australian Ballet in 2002, conducting all their programmes both at home and tour.

She has been a guest conductor with other leading ballet companies including San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet as well as BRB. 

John Beadle, Orchestra Director for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia said: “It’s a huge pleasure to welcome Nicolette back to the UK and to Birmingham in particular. We have had a long and fruitful relationship with The Australian Ballet and Nicolette is an exciting and inspiring conductor. I am really happy that UK audiences will be able to experience her talent in possibly the world’s best version of this classic Christmas ballet.”

BRB Artistic Director David Bintley added: “Nicolette is one of the world’s best conductors for ballet and it’s a thrill to have her here at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Sir Peter’s Wright’s version of The Nutcracker is rightly held up by critics and the public alike as one of the best ever produced, born out by the fact that this is its 26th year and I can’t think of a better way of celebrating Sir Peter’s 90th birthday on opening night that having Nicolette wielding the baton.”

The Nutcracker celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and this year, at an inauspicious matinee performance on Tuesday, 29 November, it will celebrate its 500th performance – a quite remarkable achivement. Twenty six years on it has become a Christmas treat and tradition for many, with some of the children brought to those opening performances now bringing their own children.

And its popularity is undiminished. In the run up to opening night, The Nutcracker has recorded one of its biggest ever years for ticket sales and looks set to be the most commercially successful production in a generation.

Twenty six years on it is still a spectacular, big budget production with sumptuous designs by John Macfarlane and its hallmark stunning special effect of the growing Christmas tree which still brings gasps of delight. A timeless delight which has become part of the tradition of Christmas.

Incidentally, tickets for the 2017 production of The Nutcracker will go on general sale at 10.00 on Friday 25th November 2016

The Nutcracker runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from 25 November to 13 December.

Roger Clarke 

Feature index Hippodrome