The Nutcracker enchants Birmingham with decadent visual feast

Christmas is a time to return to much-loved traditions and watch the world become a brighter, more magical version of itself.

The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome
The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome

So it's no surprise that The Nutcracker has become a festive tradition for many around the world, who come back to the bewitching ballet over and over again - with one ballet fan even seeing it twelve times.

Birmingham Royal Ballet are bringing a new version of the classic ballet this year, while Sir Peter Wright's 1990 production undergoes renovations to prepare it for another 30 years of performances.

But it's still the story that most people know and love, and return to every year.

On Christmas Eve, Clara's parents throw a decadent party and invite their children's godfather to perform a magic show.

The gifted toymaker gives beautiful presents to all of the children, but saves the most special - an immaculately crafted nutcracker doll - for Clara.

The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome

As night falls, Clara cannot contain her excitement before Christmas morning, and must sneak another peak of her beautiful new doll, when suddenly she's transported into a new world. The world of the nutcracker.

But The Nutcracker is more a ballet of themes and moods than actual plot, flirting with romance, villainy, and self-discovery, before quickly transforming into something else.

Rather than restricting itself to one kind of story, the show is aware of its own theatricality, and tries to give the audience everything in one sitting.

This includes cultural whiplash, as the audience travels alongside Clara through the world of the toys, with characters inspired by cultures all over the globe - Russian, Arabian, Spanish, Chinese.

Each culture performs its own spectacle of music, dance, and costume which can be dizzying, moving from Cossack dancing right into a pirouette.

The Nutcracker at the Hippodrome

Often the production is so vivid with its staging it feels like a painting, and in one striking moment, snow fills the air like confetti around the dancers and it feels impossible to even blink.

One striking difference that this production makes in its staging is the position of the orchestra: in most productions, the people behind the enchanting music of the show are hidden beneath the stage, out of view.

But here, the musicians take the seat of the gods, right at the highest point of the stage - they are as much a part of the visual spectacle as the dancers.

Without knowing much of the plot of The Nutcracker, many people will instantly recognise music from the show, so it seems fitting that the orchestra is on a more even footing with the dancers.

Their positioning above the ballerinas also gives them the appearance of bewitching gods, moving the characters below like puppets, as indeed the magician is with his toys.

The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday December 11.

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