Dance review: The Nutcracker

A socially distanced Nutcracker still has the same magic


I cannot count how many times I have seen The Nutcracker, but I do not think I have ever been so moved to hear Tchaikovsky’s lovely overture as I was last Sunday, when the Royal Ballet returned to the stage for its regular festive offering.

It was oh so familiar – yet oh so different too. Both the rows immediately in front and behind me were cordoned off (with red velvet ribbon – this is the Royal Opera House, after all) – and the pre-performance announcement not only warned against mobile phone usage, but also urged the audience to maintain social distancing and keep masks on at all times. We numbered hundreds whereas in pre-Covid days over two thousand would be able to enjoy a show.

The differences were apparent on stage too. Act I was notable for the absence of the large group of children (always pupils from the Royal Ballet School) at the house party. I counted only four children, but otherwise the choreography remained the same. Anna Rose O’Sullivan was a charming Clara: light, precise and with a joyous jump. As Drosselmeyer, Gary Avis swished his cloak and sprinkled his glitter with the usual aplomb (it’s very hard to imagine anyone else in the role at the moment – he really has made it his own).

The battle between the toy soldiers and the rats was re-choreographed by Will Tuckett, but without the hordes of children it was less effective.

The end of the act saw more modifications, with 16 snowflakes in the waltz instead of the usual 24, so it was more of a flurry than a blizzard. Covid restrictions meant no children’s choir which usually accompanies the music at that point. I found myself “la-la-ing” under my mask to make up for the lack of vocals.

In Act II, both the Spanish Dance and the Arabian Dance were cut from the production, which is a shame, but the other dances which make up the divertissement are still there, and danced with verve. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Marianela Nunez was delicate and serene; her regular partner Vadim Muntagirov showed wonderful timing and elevation in his solo. They are the company’s golden couple at the moment, and with good reason.

For audiences not familiar with the former production of the ballet, this one will do very nicely. But my heart yearns for the day when I can sit in a packed auditorium and enjoy The Nutcracker in all its glory, with more dances, more dancers and no mask.

 A performance of The Nutcracker will be live-streamed on  December 22 and will be available to watch on demand until 21 January.

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