It’s a little strange to be watching the Nutcracker in the middle of March. But there’s a reason to feel Christmassy – Digital Theatre has just released two more Royal Ballet productions (and two Royal Opera productions) to accompany its current roster of Sylvia (with Darcey Bussell/Roberto Bolle) and Swan Lake (Marianela Nunez/Thiago Soares). I’ll be reviewing both of the new productions, the first of which is Sir Peter Wright’s magical production of The Nutcracker from 2010.
I have used Digital Theatre in the past for a couple of non-ballet productions (the two Sondheim musicals: Into the Woods and Merrily We Roll Along) and I’ll take a little time to talk about the practical side of using their service. Digital Theatre is an online platform to purchase or rent digital copy of theatre productions (as the name might suggest!). Most productions are available in standard or high definition and to purchase or rent. Rental is around £4 (and lasts for 48 hours) whilst purchasing SD or HD versions cost around £8-12. It’s very simple to sign up and once you’ve purchased a production there are multiple ways to watch.
The simplest way to view a production is through their web player when you log into your account. This works just like YouTube and allows you to watch a performance from anywhere. There is also a desktop application that allows you to both stream and download videos to your computer. Unfortunately this isn’t perfect – I couldn’t change the size of the video player/window (apart from entering full-screen), which meant I can’t quite see the bottom of the tracking bar. I’m sure the Digital Theatre team are working on this. The final option for viewing is on iOS devices but as an Android user I’ve no idea what this is like – if any of my readers have used the iOS app then please share your experience in the comments!
I’d also like to add that the video quality is excellent – it was certainly professionally filmed and in full screen HD it still looked great quality. Now onto the performance!
The Nutcracker opens with a short prologue setting the scene before we enter the party scene. I always find the Party scene interesting in any production, mainly for all the background characters. It’s always fun to see dancers acting it up as guests at the party, and we are introduced to our Clara, Iohna Loots (dancing alongside Paul Kay at the party).
All of the ballet so far is just warming up for the transformation as Clara ventures into the magical land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Perhaps it’s Tchaikovksy’s luminous score, or perhaps it’s my inner-child, but I still get goosebumps as the Christmas tree starts to grow and grow to the full height of the stage and glitter magically falls from the sky.
Following a highly entertaining fight with the Rat King (it looks like it must be a lot of fun to be part of!), our Nutcracker Prince/Hans Peter is revealed to be Ricardo Cervera. What follows is possibly my favourite part of the whole ballet, as Clara and Hans Peter dance together for the first time. There’s something very regal about the male choreography (at which Cervera excels) and innocent about Clara’s movements (perfect for Loots) that gets me every time. As the orchestra builds and Loots leaps onto Cervera’s shoulder, the backdrop falls to reveal a snow-covered forest with a host of angels.
The snowflakes is one of the most iconic sections of The Nutcracker and the Royal Ballet corps de ballet certainly give it great energy. I’ve always wondered how hard it must be to dance with all the fake snow littering the floor of the stage – it seems like a bit of a health and safety risk!
As Act II opens, we get our first glimpse of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced in this performance by Miyako Yoshida and Steven McRae. We catch a glimpse of their impressive technique, which promises a spectacular grand pas de deux later in the Act.
I think my favourite mime in all of ballet is that of the Nutcracker explaining his fight with the Rat King. It’s honestly one of the absolute highlights of the entire piece for me, and never fails to make me smile. The moment when Hans Peter mimics getting knocked out and stands up to say “but wait!” is just fantastic.
Next comes the dances of the various nations/sweets. These have never been a highlight for me, in any of the Tchaikovsky/Petipa ballets, but are performed well here. I always find Spanish nice, Arabian a little long (no matter who performs it), and Tea a little silly. But, on the other hand, I absolutely love the Russian Trepak. This is what being a male ballet dancer is all about – high jumps and having fun! It’s superbly danced here by Cervera along with Paul Kay and Michael Stojko.
Loots gets the chance to shine next, taking centre stage with the Mirlitons, before Laura Morera leads the Waltz of the Flowers as the Rose Fairy. It’s a fantastic cast for this section, especially Morera’s delightful performance, and Yuhui Choe also stands out, albeit in a smaller role as a lead flower.
I’m not a big fan of the Cavalier variation in The Nutcracker – the music doesn’t inspire me as much as other variations (and it’s so short!). However, in the hands of McRae it proves riveting. Superb footwork, awesome barrel rolls, and a hint of bravado. An awesome combination!
Yoshida brings her crystalline technique to the precise and delicate Sugar Plum Fairy solo. With lovely crisp gargouillades and floating bourees she is every inch the fairytale ballerina. Her musicality is really superb – she lives and breathes the music through every step.
As the coda starts, McRae shows us how to execute the most perfect grand assembles, before Yoshida executes a string of travelling fouette turns. Perhaps more impressive though is the pair’s perfect synchronisation in the lovely reverse diagonale – a joy to watch. If you’re unfamiliar with the Grand Pas de Deux there’s a lovely clip of Lesley Collier and Jonathan Copecoaching Fumi Kaneko and Nehemiah Kish on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:
After a rousing finale Clara awakens to find it was all a dream… Or was it? I’ll let you decide that one!
So, as I’m sure you can tell, I really enjoyed this performance and overall I think Digital Theatre is a fantastic opportunity to catch a ballet production, especially if you don’t have any performances locally. At around ten pounds to buy, they’re cheaper than most ballet DVDs although there is obviously a trade off between the portability of a physical copy but the flexibility of a digital copy.
If you are interested in renting or buying a copy of The Nutcracker then it is available at the Digital Theatre page.
Next time, I’ll be reviewing The Sleeping Beauty starring Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli. It’ll be interesting to compare it to the Student Amphitheatre performance of Sleeping Beauty I’m seeing tomorrow at the Royal Opera House (also staring Bonelli, but alongside his wife Hikaru Kobayashi). I also saw it a few weeks ago with Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Golding, and am seeing it again on Saturday with Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares… I’m going to be all Sleeping Beauty-ed out!
Have you caught the Nutcracker (or any of the other productions) on Digital Theatre? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, keep on dancing!
In the interest of full disclosure, Digital Theatre provided me with a complimentary copy of The Nutcracker for the purpose of reviewing. However, I did not let this influence my review in any way and all I have said above is completely impartial.