Having been deprived of live performances of this festive favourite, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre have combined forces to bring a new filmed presentation of The Nutcracker, conjured into being by their respective directors, Carlos Acosta and Sean Foley, as a special treat for Christmas 2020 (and we certainly need it).

Karla Doorbar (Clara)
© Birmingham Royal Ballet

This new production brought together contributions from the three men that have led BRB over the past 30 years. It is based upon Sir Peter Wright’s award-winning choreography – his gift to Birmingham on the company’s 1990 relocation to the city – as augmented by adaptations that were made by David Bintley to enlarge the production for the Royal Albert Hall; and conversely, these latest changes by Acosta, which have been necessary to reduce the ballet’s format to fit the Birmingham Rep’s smaller stage.

Although the scale may have been lessened, there is no reduction of quality in this superb performance that is made easy on the eye by John Macfarlane’s sumptuous colours in gorgeous designs that transport the viewer into Drosselmeyer’s magical world. The attention to detail extends to the realism of vintage “Drosselmeyer of Nuremberg” boxes for the children’s Christmas gifts.

The film is dedicated to Marion Tait, who is stepping down at the end of the year after 52 years of extraordinary service to the company as dancer, character artist, ballet mistress and, latterly, since 2011, as assistant director to both Bintley and Acosta. A touching interval film included an interview with Tait discussing her personal experiences of dancing roles in The Nutcracker across the generations from the Sugar Plum Fairy to the Grandmother, plus other reminiscences by BRB principal Samara Downs, who first appeared as a child in a 1992 production.

Jonathan Payn (Drosselmeyer), Momoko Hirata (Sugar Plum Doll) and Gus Payne (Nutcracker)
© Birmingham Royal Ballet

The opening act had a much reduced guest list for the house party of Clara’s parents (the traditional family name of Stahlbaum is not used in the credits for this production). Karla Doorbar reprised her role as Clara, which she had danced at Sir Peter Wright’s 90th birthday celebration, in 2016, bringing the necessary mix of delightful wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and romance to this ingénue role. Jonathan Payn was an enigmatic, whimsical Drosselmeyer, supported by Kit Holder as his assistant, and amongst his “living dolls” were Tzu-Chao Chou as a firecracker Jack-in-the-Box and Momoko Hirata making a revelatory early appearance as the Sugar Plum Fairy Doll. Michael O’Hare is just twelve years behind Tait in the BRB long-service stakes, having joined in 1980, and he made a now traditional appearance as the Grandfather (alongside Emma Price as Grandmother). The harmony of the meltingly delightful snowflakes, led by Alys Shee as the Snow Fairy, was exceptional.

The Prince partners both Clara in the luscious Act 1 duet and the Sugar Plum Fairy in the grand pas de deux and César Morales presented a dashing dignity and nobility in this leading role, dancing with lightness, impeccable lyricism and secure partnering. The classical elegance of his grand pas de deux with Hirata was spellbinding with both dancers in complete mutual command of the challenging choreography. It was as good as it gets. 

César Morales (Prince) and Momoko Hirata (Sugar Plum Fairy)
© Birmingham Royal Ballet

Amongst a legion of other memorable performances, Eilis Small had a commanding presence in both acts, firstly as Clara’s Mother, wearing Macfarlane’s gorgeous red gown, and then in the sensual Arabian dance, supported by Haoliang Feng, Callum Findlay-White and Alexander Yap; preceded by a stylish Spanish dance featuring Beatrice Parma, Gabriel Anderson and Kit Holder. These national dances were prefaced by Drosselmeyer leading Clara through a gallery of motionless life-sized puppets and when Payn accidentally brushed against one of the artists it cleverly triggered a swinging pendulous movement of the “puppet’s” arm. My only bugbear was the disconcerting absence of any applause, which left uncomfortable silences in place of the rapt appreciation that these performances deserved.

Eilis Small, Haoliang Feng, Callum Findlay-White and Alexander Yap (Arabian Dance)
© Birmingham Royal Ballet

Paul Murphy conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with a verve that matched the enchanting spectacle in a superb performance of Tchaikovsky’s rich and much-loved music. The film direction of Ross MacGibbon (who else!) brought a rich mix to the viewing angles; and actress Shireenah Ingram (who appeared as Lady Capulet in the ground-breaking documentary Ballet Changed My Life – Ballet Hoo! fourteen years’ ago) was a charming host. Her naturalness was a reasonable approximation of going to watch the ballet with a good friend even to the point of her final farewell outside the theatre before walking off towards the nearest bus stop! One small silver lining to the awfulness of this pandemic is that this outstanding show has been preserved on film.

 

This performance was reviewed from BRB's video stream

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