As The Nutcracker begins, children excitedly skip around the Christmas tree, and couples gather in the warm, regal ballroom away from the falling snow… It’s easy to imagine watching with a candy cane or mulled wine in hand. The Nutcracker is festive and full of variety, and the Moscow Ballet captures its vivacity and beauty in equal amounts.

The first moment of brilliance is the male jester, who has impeccably soft landing from sky-high knee jumps. Others can’t quite compete with his feather-like foot work, and fall short. The Moscow Ballet’s costumes are exquisite, with colourful toys demanding attention, and hooped skirts flurrying across the stage. A male dancer in an Aladdin-like costume with psychedelic pants pulls off turns with an outstretched leg with incredible precision, while dancers’ facial expressions capture the playfulness and disobedience of the children well.

The growing Christmas tree is the first special effect ‘ahh’ moment for the audience, as the dreamland phase begins. The set is dripping with textured antique drapes and festive trinkets, while the lighting transforms hanging chandeliers.

Natalia Chezganova excels in her stand out performance as The Nutcracker’s principal character Clara. At just 22, she is petite perfection. Most attention is paid to a ballerina’s flexibility and control in her legs, which in Chezganova’s case is unfaultable, her rapid bourrés – feet gliding across the stage on pointe, is mesmerising to watch. But what’s truly exquisite is her arms, as her feeling extends through her body, beyond her fingertips. Her partner work with Aleksandr Tarasov is what’s, deservedly, met with the most robust applause. Turns on pointe and lifts are executed with such captivating beauty, while Tarasov’s jumps have enormous power. 

The snowflakes emerging in white tutus is what childhood ballerina dreams are made of. The flurrying orchestral sounds of the Waltz and the fusion of movement and music through the accents is stunning. It’s a dream-like state I’d happily stay in, so enjoyable that it seems fleeting – over quicker than it takes for a fallen snowflake to melt on warm skin.

A highlight of Clara’s journey to the ‘Land of the Sweets’ is the Arabian coffee duo, especially with the seamless transition of an extended leg lift into the splits. Angled arms and asymmetrical shapes to an eerie score of clarinet and strings conveys a feeling of suspense - like a Cobra stretching tall to show its threatening presence, before retreating. The China tea cups are lively and light on their feet, while the candy canes’ impressive split leaps and some 17 turns with an extended flexed foot are driven by an exciting tambourine urgency.

The mice don’t quite master the gnarly, menacing presence that’s desired to make them convincing, there’s some stumbles out of turns and the timing could certainly be improved to create a tighter performance. While the storyline at times feels like a mishmash of experiences, the Moscow Ballet captures the fairytale enchantment of the Nutcracker, and stand-out performers give the audience the wow-factor they’ve come for. Costuming and characterisation are excellent, and the strength and classical skill dancers is undeniable… But while some partners unity makes them perform like an extension of each other, other larger group sequences lack cohesion at times. The final dance between Clara and her prince in white builds the work to its crescendo. The pair’s performance is simply superb to watch, and is what makes the production most memorable.