It has always been said that when The Nutcracker comes into the Hippo, it is a sign that Christmas has come into the city.
Specially made for Birmingham Royal Ballet, by that great magician and choreographer of genius, Sir Peter Wright, The Nutcracker is both a miracle of invention ( with one of the finest transformation scenes anywhere in the world today) and the perfect vehicle for BRB to show what it’s made of, with endless opportunities for some superb dancing.
In a way which is both exhilarating and emotionally moving, we see the passage of Clara (Arancha Baselga) from a child to a young woman whose heart begins to stir with thoughts of love.
The ballet opens with a traditional Christmas party in the wealthy Stahlbaum household, Madame Stahlbaum ( a former dancer- a delightful touch) is given a diamond necklace by her husband, and the guests arrive with their children.
But Peter Wright is a sorcerer and has always had a sense of the errieness which magic can bring into equation and Tchaikovsky does the rest.
A conjurer arrives, he is the man who will control the evening’s activities, both in the human world and the fairytale Land of the South, where Clara is taken ( on a huge flying swan – always for 20 years an evocative moment).
But before this, you have exquisite choreography moment after moment. Dolls come to life and emerge from pink satin boxes, the guests and the older generation tread the stately measures of old German student dances (how lovely it is to see Marion Tait dancing the grandmother again this season).
The children meanwhile in the formal suits and dresses of the mid-19th century skip about and bring smiles to the audience.
But after midnight, this room after dark disappears.
Outside a tall window, Tchaikovsky makes a snowy landscape slightly sinister, rats circle the room and Clara is in the hands of the magician, Drosselmeyer, (Rory Mackay who manages a difficult role competently enough).
Then flowers unfurl, fans come in from the flies, the snow and ice has disappeared, and the Spanish dancers bring an Andalusian heat into the scene, flinging their hats away with a flourish as they conclude a passage of fine dancing.
The Arabian dance with its half-naked male slaves and their sinuous odalisque (Delia Matthews) are haunting to watch and the house was silenced in this beautiful sequence.
But amongst all these wonders, special mention must be made of Yvette Knight’s Sugar Plum Fairy.
Knight has elegance and surety of line, her carriage was superb and she held herself with all the dignity the role required.
In fact, she didn’t put a foot wrong, (something I haven’t said for years), partnered well by Yasuo Atsuji.
Paul Murphy took the Royal Ballet Sinfonia through Tchaikovsky’s score with a delicate touch and Robert Gibbs violin playing is, as always, a marvel of delicacy.
Runs Until December 13. Running time 2hrs 30mins. For details visit: www.birminghamhippodrome.com