The Nutcracker, Birmingham Hippodrome, review: Céline Gittens's Sugar Plum Fairy is enchanting

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is resplendent with an enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy and a growing Christmas tree that bursts through the wall revealing giant branches

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The Independent Culture

There’s a particular warmth to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Its marvels are properly marvellous, from the growing Christmas tree to the flying snowgoose that carries the heroine on her magical journey, but there's also a family feeling running through the show.

Peter Wright's staging is dedicated to the city of Birmingham, the company's home. This revival, which celebrates Wright's 90th birthday, is fresh and bright, topped off with Céline Gittens’s enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy.

Wright makes some tweaks to the ballet's meandering story. Clara, the young heroine, is now a ballet student, allowing for more dancing in the party scene. The magician Drosselmeyer has an expanded role; the magic kingdom of the second act becomes his realm, while the Sugar Plum Fairy is Clara’s vision of herself as an adult.

Some of those changes are fiddly, but the production as a whole is handsomely paced, delivering its big moments. A ripple of pleasure goes round the theatre at the transformation scene: the growing Christmas tree bursts through the wall, unfurling giant branches.

The mouse battle, choreographed by Vincent Redmon, is athletic and exciting. John F Macfarlane’s superb designs include a piratical Mouse King, danced here by Tom Rogers. He wears his crown hooked rakishly over one furry ear, swinging a tattered standard as he urges on his troops.

Arancha Baselga is a neat, animated Clara, though she could show more wonder. Yasuo Atsuji brings imposing presence to Drosselmeyer, with strong but restrained gestures – there’s a very effective sense of power held back. As his assistant, Tzu-Chao Chou shows bounding technique, but pulls too many faces.

Gittens is a radiant Sugar Plum, bringing real ballerina quality to the grand pas de deux. Her dancing is expansive, grand but gracious. Every movement flows right to her fingertips. She has a fine rapport with Brandon Lawrence's princely Nutcracker, who dances with elegant line and tender partnering.

As the Rose Fairy, Beatrice Parma dances with attack, supported by a fine group of soloists. In the national dances, Alys Shee stands out as the Arabian dancer, cool and assured. William Bracewell is an appealing dancing partner for Clara, while Lachlan Monaghan leaps tirelessly as the Jack-in-the-Box.

The company performance is confident and lively. Nicolette Fraillon conducts a bright performance of Tchaikovsky's score, bringing out the frosty glitter and and grandeur of the music.

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