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The Spectacular Nutcracker!

Miki Mizutani as Clara and Tzu-Chao Chou as the Prince © Bill Cooper

Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker, performed by the award winning Birmingham Royal Ballet, at The Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 17 November to 9 December. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Choreography Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redmon; Production Peter Wright; Designs John Macfarlane; Lighting David Finn.

Review by Ann Evans

The ever-popular classic Christmas story of The Nutcracker completely enchanted the packed auditorium at the Birmingham Hippodrome on its opening night of 17 November 2023. From the moment the orchestra began to play – even before the curtains rose, you sensed that you were about to be taken into a magical wonderland of outstanding dance, incredible music and absolute delight. And you were not disappointed.

Riku Ito as Harlequin and Reina Fuchigami as Columbine © Bill Cooper

This classic story begins on Christmas Eve at the party thrown by Dr Stahlbaum and his wife at their magnificent home, bedecked for Christmas with a 30ft high Christmas tree, garlands and Christmas sparkle. The guests are arriving, full of fun and joy, the dancing begins along with magic from Drosselmeyer (Rory Mackay) the magician. The party guests and audience are entertained by Harlequin (Shuailun Wu), Columbine (Rachele Pizzillo) and Jack-in-the-Box (Eric Pinto Cata). Gifts are given out, including a wooden Nutcracker doll which is given to the Stahlbaum’s daughter, Clara (Beatrice Parma).

This opening scene is packed full of Christmas delight – and mischief from the younger children (members of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Dance Track and Elmhurst Ballet School’s Young Dancer programmes.) But after the guests go home, and Clara returns downstairs to find her Nutcracker doll – then the real magic happens.

Yaoqian Shang as the Rose Fairy © Bill Cooper

We are taken then to a dazzling fantasy world! The Nutcracker Doll (Gus Payne) comes to life, the little rat that had scampered across the floor becomes the fantastic Rat King (Callum Findlay-White) dramatic and dangerous; a life-sized box of toy soldiers comes to life to defend Clara from the Rat King and she dances with the Prince (Mathias Dingman).

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet © Bill Cooper

The dancing is spectacular, the scenery and settings exquisite – the Snow Fairy (Yu Kurihara) with her attendants, the winds and the snowflakes create a dazzling scenario which is quite other-worldly. And the magic goes on. We follow Clara through this adventure that sees her flying through a winter wonderland on a giant bird, and encountering dancers from around the world: Arabia, China, Russia, the Dance of the Mirlitions; Clara meets the beautiful Rose Fairy (Miki Mizutani) and of course the Sugar Plum Fairy (Momoko Hirata).

Beatrice Parma as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Tzu-Chao Chou as the Prince © Bill Cooper

The Birmingham Royal Ballet brings 60 world class dancers to the Birmingham stage accompanied by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Thomas Jung; Leader Robert Gibbs. Tchaikovsky composed this music in 1892 yet the music is so well known and familiar to us it's welcomed with open arms, and hearing it played live as it was intended is just breathtaking.

Tzu-Chao Chou as the Prince © Bill Cooper

This year’s production of The Nutcracker has been taken to new heights. In 2022, after over 30 years, The Nutcracker was given a make-over with new sets and costumes by designer John Macfarlane. The results are spectacular.

The dancing is exceptional – The Prince (Mathias Dingman), the Sugar Plum Fairy (Momoko Hirate), Drosselmeyer (Rory Mackay) and Clara (Beatrice Parma) to highlight just a few. Additionally, this year three dancers are making their debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy on specific dates. Congratulations to Sofia Liñares, Rachele Pizzillo and Lucy Waine. However, at the other end of the scale, this production also says goodbye to a BRB Legend. After the evening performance on 8 December Senior Répétiteur, former Principal Michael O'Hare hangs up his ballet pumps for the last time and retires from the Company after 43 years! In this evening’s performance of The Nutcracker Michael O’Hare danced the role of Clara's Grandfather.

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet © Bill Cooper

Also, for the evening performances on Wednesday 22 and Friday 24 November Ricardo Castellanos, Principal Dancer with the Norwegian National Ballet will be dancing the role of the Nutcracker Prince alongside the BRB’s Céline Gittens as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Rachele Pizzillo as Clara.

But no matter which performance you go to see, you're sure to be enchanted by the spectacle of this lovely story; you'll be carried along by the sumptuous music and dazzled by the costumes and brilliance of the dance.


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