As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t be Christmas without The Nutcracker. You know how the story goes – a little girl, Clara, is given a nutcracker for Christmas by a magician and when midnight strikes finds herself embroiled in a fight to the death with giant mice and then transported to the kingdom of sweets. All this, plus Tchaikovsky’s fabulous music and a Christmas tree that grows to giant proportions. It’s the essence of Christmas.
The Nutcracker score was commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres for the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where it was first performed in 1892. The legendary ballet master Marius Petipa created the scenario, based on one of Hoffman’s fairytales, and Lev Ivanov provided the choreography. It got off to a rocky start but quickly became a Christmas favourite around the world.
This year I’m seeing two Nutcrackers, one before Christmas and one after. I’m kicking off with the English National Ballet production at the London Coliseum. It’s a relatively new production, created by Wayne Eagling in 2010. Best bits for me are the skating scenes outside Clara’s house and the terrifying skeletal mouse heads.
In January I’m seeing the Royal Ballet version at the Royal Opera House, with choreography by Peter Wright based on the the original Lev Ivanov choreography. This magical production has been in the Royal Ballet Repertoire for more than thirty years. The designs are by the great ballet designer Julia Trevelyan Oman. Best moment for me is the scene where the Christmas tree grows so large it fills the stage. The Royal Ballet are our premier dance company and the quality of the dancing and of the orchestra are second to none.
I would dearly love to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, created by Peter Wright in 1990, which has the reputation of being one of the best around. The set designs, by John Macfarlane, look amazing. Sadly they’re not bringing it to London and I can’t manage a trip to Birmingham to see it. Maybe next year.