Since its 1892 St Petersburg première, The Nutcracker has seen numerous interpretations and has entertained audiences from East to West. Known as the Christmas Ballet, companies the world over stage and re-stage their own interpretations. Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker, with choreography by Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redmon, was a magical evening of pure nostalgia, through which the Christmas wonderment of a childhood long gone was recalled. The set was gorgeous, with a massive Christmas tree, sparkling ornaments, wrapped gifts, toys and a warm fire-place opposite the tree. The rich velvet tones and giant stairway used for the dancers' entrances and exits was elegant and sophisticated, indicating an upper-class family. The scintillating music, the Tchaikovsky original, was played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and conducted by Koen Kessels.

The Nutcracker (Dancers: Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao) © Steve Hanson
The Nutcracker (Dancers: Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao)
© Steve Hanson

Act I opened with the Party Scene inside the mansion, where delightful group dances took place, and characters like Dosselmeyer (Iain Mackay) and the beloved, youthful Clara (Momoko Hirata) were introduced. The big group dances performed by children and more senior dancers included turns led by elbows, big jumps and waltz steps. Costuming was an intricate part of the performance, especially for the Jack-in-the-Box, marvelously danced by Tzu-Chao Chou. The slinky black and gold trousers added a fantastic effect and a springy quality to the choreography. As Dosselmeyer, Mackay wore a massive cape which added to his ability to surprise the children with the numerous toys he presented. An illusionist of sorts, Mackay danced and enchanted the audience with his Dosselmeyer interpretation. The Harlequin duet included many parallel foot jumps which were a strong contrast to Clara's delicately danced solos.The fight scene between the Nutcracker doll and the Rats was dark and fast-paced, enhanced by the use of technology and eccentric costuming. We were taken to winter wonderland by the corps de ballet and the Snow Queen, whose feather-like arms and ephemeral movement concluded Act I.

Unforgettable themes marked the second Act of the ballet. The forceful Spanish dancers, the nimble Arabians, the jaunty Chinese twins, the colorful Mirlitons and the sweet Rose fairies were strongly danced and enjoyable to watch. The crisp footwork and fast turns were etched into space and were supported by the fantastic music. The Act felt dream-like and the corps de ballet performed wonderfully with unity and clarity. However, there were few soloists who stood out and charged the space. The exceptional, and perhaps the most memorable, section of the evening, was the grand pas de deux performed by Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao. These two dancers were superb as a couple, and equally as brilliant in their solos. Sakuma's bourrées and Cao's leg split jumps were sharp and precise. The chemistry between the two and the elegance of the choreography created a climax, which brought the second half to a close.

This holiday dance had something for everyone. Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker was an elegant winter ballet which captivated every audience member, young or old. The uniquely crafted sets, the velvety costumes and the colorful characters brought a unique charm to the evening. Christmas is around the corner and Birmingham Royal Ballet has already started to be merry and bring joy to the West Midlands.

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