The Royal Ballet: The Nutcracker Review

Salenko’s shining Sugar Plum and McRae’s Prince accented, sharpened and shaped the choreography to Tchaikovsky’s twinkling score.

Oxford and Carnaby Street are abuzz with the holidays upon us and the arrival of tourists – gotta love ’em – but so is Covent Garden.  Not only is the large Christmas tree up, but The Nutcracker has returned to the stage of the Royal Opera House as well.

Tuesday night’s performance marked the 400th by the Royal Ballet at the ROH and the audience was treated to more than just one starring sugar plum this opening night – with a stellar cast showcasing the current and upcoming stars of the Royal Ballet.

While The Nutcracker may be the most well-known ballet – perhaps Swan Lake offers some competition in that department – there are numerous versions across the globe.  The Royal performs a version choreographed by Sir Peter Wright over three decades ago.

This production marks the fifth I have seen and is second only to Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker on the English National Ballet.  In this version, I find the Christmas tree’s endless growth spurt looks a bit rough.  The stage itself raises to reveal the remainder of the tree which gives the illusion of it growing, but there is a gaping space as it does so.

As Clara, Francesca Hayward is gorgeous in both looks and movement – teasing the audience with suspended arabesques and high jumps.  Her Nutcracker (Hans-Peter), Alexander Campbell, was elegant and equally stunning. During the array of brilliant dances – Luca Acri and Tristan Dyer put on an energetic Russian dance alongside Campbell and Yasmine Naghdi’s Rose Fairy was gorgeous too, full of ravishing turns and tantalising balances.

However, as per usual, the show-stopping, pore-raising performance was delivered by Iana Salenko’s shining Sugar Plum and Steven McRae’s preeminent Prince.  With soft cambrés, pretty pirouettes and sharp développés, Salenko and McRae were able to keep me on my edge accenting, sharpening and shaping the choreography of the pas de deux to Tchaikovsky’s twinkling score.  McRae’s variation was flawlessly timed and musically impeccable – though I did find the ending quite Basilio-esque (somewhat Spanish for those less familiar).

Salenko’s variation set to the popular “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” was a technical success and featured one – particularly  memorable double turn in attitude.  Alas, it is here that I feel as though the choreography drags.  For the first half of the variation, the Fairy dances with the music – finding each note – but during the second half the steps feel laboured, especially the final ménage of pirouettes  which is dreadfully slow for such pretty music.

The Nutcracker runs until 14 January, 2016, with  a live-cinema on 16 December, 2015 starring Principal dancers Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Golding as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince with Hayward and Campbell set to reprise their roles.

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