Today is the 120th anniversary of the beautiful and ultimately Christmassy ballet "The Nutcracker", which was first performed in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg with music by P.Y.Tchaikovsky.
Last Friday I went to a matinee performance of the English National Ballet's version of the tale at the London Colliseum. One of the first memories I have of the Nutcracker is going to watch it in the small and decadent but opulent theatre at my hometown, performed by small Russian companies. I don't recall much about the performance itself but the whole ritual of dressing up and going to the theatre with my mum and my friends. It was the thrill of running around the dimmly lit corridors with epoque furniture and wallpaper, going into our box and drawing the think and heavy red velvet curtains.The surprise when the last bell rang and the lights went out. There is just something about the ballet that makes me feel like a child again.
The last time I went to see this ballet was a Royal Ballet's version, which was incredible and truly magical. They definitely take care of every single detail in the costume, set and also coreography. It is almost like eating a magnificent, sweet, rich, filling, flavoured Christmas pudding. There are just now enough superlatives to describe it; everything is just more. That massive tree going up in the air will stay in my memory forever.
However, the ENB version didn't thrill me as much. I don't know if it was because it was a matinee (and we all know it isn't the same as an evening) or the fact that it was a child-friendly performance (honest mistake when booking.... NEVER happening again) The set in the first act was beautiful, the inside and outside of a Victorian house and it was perfect for the ball dancing and storytelling scenes. However, the growing of the tree was a bit of a dissappointment since the tree was 2D and from then on it was just a plain backdrop. The journey around the world that Clara and the Nutcracker were supposed to do was just the difference dances coming on stage, performing and leaving. There was no change of scenery, no transition, no interaction with the main characters (in fact, they weren't even there). The only scene I particulary enjoyed was the Snowflakes; the choreography and execution were flawless and, who doesn't love a bit of snow falling down?
I am not sure if scenes and design details were erased from this particular performance because it was child friendly but it wouldn't make any sense; children also appreciate beautiful design and there were also adults watching the performace.
The costumes of the production were acceptable, nothing out of the ordinary. My favourites were the Victorian ballgowns of the first act so that says enough about the rest of the designs... I just felt like something was missing in every single one, there was no attention to detail. The Snowflakes' tutus could've been so much more rich and beaded, conveying a bit more the brilliance and whiteness of snow, and the mice could've also been more embellished.
Despite all this, my Christmas spirits were still up and as I said before, going to the Ballet during Christmas is not much about the performance but the act of walking around the city, watching the lights and spending time with friends, and being transported to another world for a few hours, no matter how loud the kids are...
P.D The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker is on from 23rd December to 19th January.