This was a splendid performance of what has become one of The Royal Ballet’s most venerable productions. It is easy to see why this version of The Nutcracker by Sir Peter Wright has survived for so long – it tells the story admirably, arguably better than any other, is packed with incident, is sumptuously set and costumed, and contains fine Classical dancing. As such, it has been a showcase for the company’s collective talents since 1984, and proved to be so again in this first of a long, coffer-filling run over the Christmas period.
Certainly the dancers are a fine ensemble at present, the ranks fair bursting with both talent and enthusiasm, a generally young group of artists who clearly love to be on the stage. And this Nutcracker asks a lot of them, as the detail Wright packs into his production requires a strong sense of shared effort, a sense of being part of the collective whole. It would become a list of names to mention each and every impressive performance in turn – the company has taken clear care with this revival, ensuring stylistic coherence and, most importantly of all, a shared musicality which informs the movements of each and every dancer. Certainly, it has been a long time since the ensemble of the Waltz of the Flowers was so together and, indeed, so in command of the choreography, and the Act One snowflakes swirled and spun with impressive cohesiveness. It is good to see this company dancing so well at present, for, apart from the recent revival of Ashton’s delightful Sylvia, they have not really been put through their Classical paces by this season’s repertoire thus far.
The lead quartet of dancers (all principals) were most satisfying, with Alexander Campbell on sparky form as Hans-Peter and Francesca Hayward, fresh as a daisy as Clara, with precise, clear footwork. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Sarah Lamb confirmed her technical aplomb with a performance in the grand manner, although there is something of Grace Kelly about her – she exudes a certain coolness where this role benefits from a sense of warmth and largesse. Steven McCrae was on princely form as her partner, his choreography etched with care. A larger-than-life Drosselmeyer from Gary Avis at times threatens to overbalance things – he is such a natural and extrovert performer – although much of the role today is the result of extensive tinkering by Wright over the decades, giving the character an increasingly central role and, all-too-often, centre-stage. Vignettes abound – a generous Rose Fairy form Yasmine Naghdi, a mesmeric Arabian dance with Reece Clarke a rock of partnering as he holds a sultry Melissa Hamilton aloft, an exuberant and well-matched ‘Chinese’ duo from Leo Dixon and Calvin Richardson, and more, much more.
Underpinning this performance was impressive orchestral sound and a welcome sense of drive form Barry Wordsworth’s baton. All too often is recent times, tempos from the pit at Covent Garden have tended to the sluggish, often robbing the dancing of the mordancy which sprightly musical performance engenders. Not so on this occasion, and Wordsworth and his musicians can take part of the credit for the success of the evening.
Wright’s Nutcracker for The Royal Ballet still sets the standard for this work – the original has been subject to so many versions, many of which overdo the saccharine sweetness and stage gimmickry in favour of ‘real’ dancing. This revival confirms its position and shows The Royal Ballet at the top of its game. Vaut le detour.