Birmingham Royal Ballet's Nutcracker pirouettes into Hippodrome - review with pictures
In the last week of November, it says Christmas is coming like nothing else.
The premiere of this festive feast of dance was in St Petersburg in 1892, and it has been the Christmas gift that keeps on giving ever since.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet's version stars a traditional turn-of-the-century setting and sumptuous period costumes dominated by warm reds - the walls and drapes of the drawing room, the flickering firelight, the magician Drosselmeyer's extended cloak and Mrs Stahlbaum's stunning crimson dress.
The Christmas Eve party is in full swing. The children, having danced for the grown-ups and been wowed by the magician, here a mystical Rasputin-like figure, are presented with gifts from a large pile below the tree, among them a Nutcracker for Clara.
Unable to sleep, Clara later comes downstairs, and here the magic enters a new dimension. The Christmas tree starts growing, dwarfing her, and the rats, previously seen careering around the stage in clockwork form, come to life, King Rat springing from the gigantic fireplace intent on abducting Clara.
She is saved by the toy soldiers, earlier seen packed side by side in a box under the tree, now come to life. It is a triumph of costume and set design.
The Nutcracker transforms into a prince and takes Clara to the Land of Frosted Sugar. Enter dancing snowflakes waltzing through falling snow, it's all so sparkly and delicate.
The second act opens with Clara being transported on the back of a swan, but then comes a difficult halting in the flow of the story.
In many ways, The Nutcracker is a game of two halves with a disconnect in the setting, the look and the characters - yet the spectacle of the dance, the power of the imagination and the magic of Christmas provide the continuity that pulls us through.
The introduction of new characters in the second half is also an opportunity to showcase the talents of the company's other lesser-ranked yet spectacular dancers.
We are entertained by the fiery Spaniards and the exuberant Russians, if slightly underwhelmed by the awkward Chinese duet. But it is the sinuous suppleness of the Arbians that steals this particular show-within-a-show.
The appearance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is glorious climax to this wonderful Yuletide starter, which across its two-hour running time oozes effortless elegance.
Above all, Peter Wright's Nutcracker reminds us of the wonderment of Christmas, with its grandeur of scale, enchanting sets and gorgeous dancing. It remains a much-loved seasonal staple of a West Midlands Christmas.
Runs until December 14.
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