November 17, 2023
It must be getting near Christmas. The centre of Birmingham is filled with what seems to be the ever-growing Frankfurt Christmas Market, although it always feels a bit different from those in Germany which somehow seem so much more stylish. For real classy Christmas cheer, it has to be the Hippodrome, though, where Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker is back on stage.
It may now be 33 years old but it continues to delight, continues to send you away with a smile on the face and warmth in the heart. And after last year’s refurbishment it looks quite fantastic. Vibrant colour is everywhere.
The opening party in the Stahlbaum house gives everyone a chance to shine. There’s a sweet number for the youngsters and a more sedate dance for the elders, Michael O’Hare shining as the rickety, short-sighted but genial Grandfather. As his opposite, Karla Doorbar skipped a generation zipping from Clara to Grandmother in the space of twelve months. There are magic tricks, dancing dolls and a super-springy Jack-in-the-Box, the magic all conducted by the excellent Rory Mackay as Drosselmeyer.
At the heart of all this is Beatrice Parma as the teenage Clara and her dancing partner Riku Ito who come with just a hint of love interest. Making them older teenagers was a masterstroke by Peter Wright as it vastly increases the dance opportunities. Both Parma and Ito seem to shine every chance they get and are surely principals in the making.
The transformation scene, in which the Christmas tree engulfs the whole stage, is still be best around by a long way. After the breathless battle in which King Rat (who always reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow for some reason, and yes, I know he came later) and his crew do battle with the toy soldiers, things calm for the most romantic of pas de deux as Clara dances with the cavalier of her dreams in the shape of Mathias Dingman’s Nutcracker Prince.
The Snowflakes were beautifully led by Yu Kurihara before it’s off to the fantastic world conjured up by Drosselmeyer for Act II, although Clara’s arrival was delayed by a technical hiccup and an unplanned short pause. The various national dances all delighted, although the Russian didn’t seem quite as energetic as usual.
After the gorgeous Miki Mizutani as The Rose Fairy led the Waltz of the Flowers, Momoko Hirata and Digman lit up the stage in the grand pas de deux. It was a wonderful conclusion to the evening. ‘Polished’ does not do them justice. Hirata in particular sparkled like a cut diamond, everything pinpoint accurate.
A real festive treat, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome to December 9, 2023.