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The Nutcracker

Posted on September 23, 2010

Sometimes you need a kick-start to get you into the swing for the festive season and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome on November 31 was just the thing for me.

Muscle past the throngs weighed down by Christmas shopping, step through the sleek glass foyer of the city’s Hippodrome theatre and you’re almost there – from the chaos of modernity into a world of traditional opulence. Peter Wright’s production opens on a party scene where the magic begins with a feast for the eyes: burnished golds, stately purples and rich crimsons.

Laetitia Lo Sardo takes the role of ballet student Clara and graces the stage with a skilled and charming interpretation of a child whose dance aspirations are brought to life in the dream sequence that is Act II. Jonathan Payn as magician Drosselmeyer conjures up a spellbinding performance which triggers the course of events although Kosuke Yamamoto steals the show when he’s brought to life as the Jack-in-the-box, athletically executing the flamboyant choreography.

But it’s not just the dancers that make this production such a grand illusion. The sets by John MacFarlane are magnificent. I first saw this production eight years ago and although I know what’s to come, I still draw in my breath when the Christmas tree grows upwards and outwards, and the hearth increases in stature, moving towards centre stage for the entrance of a swaggering King Rat.

The second act opens as Clara travels to her magical world atop a flying swan – still a thrill to see – and is rewarded for her bravery fighting the King Rat through the presentation of dances from different lands. To paraphrase an old sporting quote: this is a ballet of two halves. The richness of the party scene is replaced with more simple settings. There’s no land of sweets, no tapestry for the exotic characters but this does not detract. It allows the audience to view the beauty of the dances through Clara’s eyes, in all their stunning detail. The Arabian Dance in particular is performed with amazing dexterity by Gaylene Cummerfield, alongside Jamie Bond, Steven Monteith and Tom Rogers.

It’s also good to see Robert Parker’s return to the company. He left a year ago to pursue a career as an airline pilot. Although Clara’s father might not have been one of his most challenging roles, he always brings a touch of class to the proceedings.

All too soon it’s over, Clara has been transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced with her Prince and awoken to find herself beneath a tree that has returned to its smaller self. The stirring music draws to a close and the company takes its bows.

But the magic’s not completely gone: it’s there in the wonder of an audience who can make their way through the drunken revelry of a Saturday night city centre in full swing, with a sparkle in the eye and a readiness for the festive season.

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