November 22, 2022
In 1990, Sir Peter Wright created Birmingham Royal Ballet’s very own The Nutcracker as a thank you to the city for making the then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet so welcome as it moved from London. Over 1000 performances across thirty years of long pre-Christmas seasons took its toll on the set and costumes, however. But a £1 million, year-long rebuild and refurbishment has worked wonders.
It looks stunning. The once-again vibrant frontcloth sets the tone. At the Stahlbaum’s Christmas party, the now bright red really catches the eye in particular. Later, the Snowflakes have been restored to their former sparkling glory. The winter wonderland in which they dance gleams and glistens, the filigree icicles looking pristine and cut-glass perfect. The Act II set is a riot of vivid colour that matches the dance perfectly.
While Birmingham’s Nutcracker may be familiar to most in the audience, it remains perfect pre-Christmas fare. It’s warm and cosy, just the sort of ballet to curl up with on a chill November evening.
Reina Fuchigami glowed, radiating happiness and warmth as Clara, both at the party and then as the teenager having the dream of her lifetime. And who could blame her for immediately falling for Brandon Lawrence’s Prince after the battle between the spick and span, come-to-life toy soldiers and the gang of rats who turn up with their serious attitude problem. Their pas de deux as the house transforms to a wintry scene is a joy, full of the ecstasy of falling in love for the first time.
Special too was Yijing Zhang’s light and precise Snow Fairy, who showed thrilling technique as she marshalled her snowflakes and winds.
In Act II, the company grabbed the chance to show off in the themed Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances. Having removed the awkward and serious issues around the Chinese dance a few years ago, the Arabian has been similarly re-choreographed to remove the old-fashioned stereotypes it too contained but while still keeping faith with tradition and heritage. Two of the men have been banished leaving a very classical, absolutely delightful pas de deux, danced here by Yaoqian Shang and Gabriel Anderson.
The grand pas de deux doesn’t get much grander than when danced by Lawrence and Céline Gittens. Full of power, speed, accuracy, super leaps and turns, it was everything you could wish for: the icing on a very special Christmas cake.
Birmingham’s Nutcracker always was the best around. It always was irresistible. Now it’s even more so. The refurbishment hasn’t just freshened it up, it’s completely reinvigorated it, taken it to a new level. It’s the perfect pre-festive treat for old and young alike. The happy faces as everyone made their way back into chill night air said it all.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until December 10, 2022.
The company then performs a different production at the Royal Albert Hall, London from December 28-31.