The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, always handsomely traditional, has become a tradition of its own. This revival comes up as bright as the gilding on the Christmas angel’s wings, from the charm of the party scene to the wide-eyed wonder of Francesca Hayward’s young heroine.
This year’s performances celebrate the 90th birthday of its producer, Peter Wright. He’s tweaked this version several times since creating it in 1984, moving away from a recreation of the 1892 staging and adding more magic tricks and tweaks to the story. It unfolds with gracious warmth and sparkly detail.
Hayward’s Clara is gorgeously spontaneous, always in the moment as she responds to the small dramas of the family Christmas and to the magic journey that whisks her away to the Kingdom of Sweets. Her dancing has a windblown lightness, with flowing line and nuanced musical phrasing. She’s matched by Alexander Campbell as the Nutcracker. Their duet has a delightful sense of discovery. It’s as if the soaring jumps were powered by their excitement at the new world they find themselves in.
The magician Drosselmeyer can become an overbearing character in this staging, but Gary Avis pitches it just right. He’s a kindly figure who can command mysterious forces, linking the magic back to the human story.
The Nutcracker packs most of its story into the first act, and most of its dancing into the second. The party and the mouse battle were danced with gusto, little dramas playing out across the stage.
Julia Trevelyan Oman’s period designs are sumptuous. Heavy snow lies thick on the steep roofs of a little German town. The candlelit corps of Christmas angels, moving across the stage in a toddling glide, have flowing curls, stiff patterned skirts and big bronzed wings. Her Kingdom of Sweets has less depth – lots of glitter, but too much beigey-pink.
As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Lauren Cuthbertson shows a new polish, with elegant long limbs and neat feet. As her prince, Federico Bonelli is an attentive partner, and dances his solo with dash.
Wright has created a new Chinese dance for this production, showing off the virtuoso pairing of Marcelino Sambé and Luca Acri. They romp through it, quick and light. Yuhui Choe dances with airy precision as the Rose Fairy, though she could find more drama in the Tchaikovsky score. Boris Gruzin conducted a brisk performance.