As the nights turn frosty and the scent of Christmas fills the air, Birmingham prepares to embrace a cherished tradition that has spanned generations, as it welcomes back Birmingham Royal Ballet’s timeless masterpiece, The Nutcracker.
This exquisite production, with its enchanting story, breathtaking choreography and unforgettable music, continues to captivate the hearts of audiences young and old more than two centuries on. As Birmingham Royal Ballet prepares to raise the curtain on this most enduring of Christmas traditions, we look at why is it just as magical today as it was when it first graced the stage in the 19th century.
to the German novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King written by ETA Hoffmann. It tells the tale of a young girl named Marie (or Clara as she is known in many adaptations), who receives a nutcracker doll as a Christmas gift from her godfather, Drosselmeyer.
The first significant adaptation of it as a ballet was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with a score composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The production premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia, in December 1892. Tchaikovsky had reservations about the ballet’s potential success and it’s true that it received a lukewarm reception during its initial run. Critics found fault with the production, particularly its heavy reliance on child performers in leading roles. Despite this, the charming score and imaginative story began to win over audiences.
By the mid-20th century however, it was George Balanchine’s version for the New York City Ballet that helped solidify The Nutcracker as a beloved tradition – its elaborate and iconic choreography adding to its appeal.
At the heart of The Nutcracker lies a story of enchantment and adventure, as it whisks audiences to a world where toys come to life and dreams take flight. On a journey to a magical realm, the young Clara encounters a dazzling array of characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and the dashing Nutcracker Prince.
These are showcased by some of the most exquisite choreography ever to grace a stage. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Waltz of the Flowers and the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King remain the ballet’s iconic moments – each one meticulously crafted with mesmerising grace, precision and storytelling.
Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score, with lush melodies and enchanting waltzes, has become synonymous with the holiday season. The music resonates with audiences, perfectly evoking a sense of wonder and nostalgia. From the opening notes of the Overture to the Dance of the Mirlitons in all its whimsy, it remains such an integral part of the ballet’s enduring appeal.
The Nutcracker made its first appearance at Birmingham Hippodrome in the early 1960s. At the time, the theatre was well-established as a cultural leader in the region and its commitment to showcasing high-quality productions made it the perfect stage.
In 1990, the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet relocated to the city and was renamed Birmingham Royal Ballet. This move marked the beginning of a new chapter for the company, and The Nutcracker became an integral part of its annual performance schedule.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production was created especially for the company and the city by Sir Peter Wright CBE, the renowned choreographer and director. His version of the ballet is still regarded as one of the most cherished and acclaimed productions, earning international acclaim, touring the globe and being praised for its artistry and innovation.
What remains one of the most remarkable aspects of The Nutcracker is its ability to bridge the generations. For grandparents, it’s a chance to relive their own childhood wonder, while the littles ones can get swept up in the magic for the first time. Its universal themes of family, imagination and the joy of Christmas continue to be held dear.
It connects us to the past and inspires us in the present, and we know it will continue to enchant generations to come. It reminds us of the power of imagination and the enduring joys that bring families closer together.
So, this year, as the snow falls and the lights twinkle, make Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker a part of your holiday tradition and let the enchantment of this classic production warm your heart and kindle the spirit of the season once more.