Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; November 28, 2014
It might now be celebrating its 25th birthday, but it never ceases to amaze, and never ceases to send you home with a broad smile on your face. Yes, Sir Peter Wright’s glorious “Nutcracker”, far and away the best around, is back for another festive run on the Hippodrome stage. It’s colourful, fun, and family-friendly, but like all the best stories, tinged with a hint of mystery and darkness.
The opening party in the Stahlbaum house has its share of youngsters, but Wright’s decision to make Clara and her friends 15-year old ballet students not only allows the roles to be taken by adults, but provides more opportunities for grown-up choreography. Slipping in a teenage love interest just adds to the feast. But everyone gets a chance to shine. The boys have great fun trying to annoying Clara and her friend, there’s a sweet dance number for all the youngsters and a more sedate dance for the elders, Michael O’Hare shining as the rickety and somewhat short-sighted Grandfather to Marion Tait’s Grandmother. And don’t forget the magic tricks, dancing dolls, and the non-stop super-springy Jack-in-the-Box, danced here by the livewire Chou Tzu-chao.
But it’s the transformation scene that gets most people. Even if you’ve seen in tens of times before, it retains that spine-tingly wow factor. There’s no simple hauling up of the tree to double or triple the height here. It doesn’t just grow, it expands in every direction. Huge branches slide in, engulfing the stage. On the other side the whole wall where the hearth was rotates through 180 degrees revealing a large fireplace through which the rats emerge. The following battle scene is all swords, guns, blasting cannons and hand to hand combat. There’s no messing around as the piratical rats and their grand looking leader set to with the soldiers from the box under the tree. And when it’s time to take a breath, Wright gives us one of the most romantic pas de deux you could wish for. As Clara, Karla Doorbar looked as thrilled as any teenager might when she suddenly finds herself dancing with the cavalier of her dreams, the immaculately turned out Joseph Caley. She looked like she wanted to run and scream and tell the world the wonderful, magical things that were happening.
In the Act II diverts, Céline Gittens stood out as a gorgeously alluring Arabian princess, while the trio of James Barton, Alexander Bird and Max Maslen threw everything into the Russian Dance. Nao Sakuma didn’t seem quite her usual self as the Rose Fairy, however. Thankfully there’s no dreadful Mother Ginger character and no hoarde of children; another choreography masterstroke.
As if everything that went before wasn’t good enough, Momoko Hirata lit up the stage even further as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the grand pas de deux. She was pinpoint accurate with everything. How does she turn so quickly then stop so suddenly, always finding time for another of those engaging smiles as the audience? This was a dancer not only enjoying herself immensely, but making sure we knew too. And she had a great partner in Caley as her Prince.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff.