A giant flying swan, a doddery dancing grandpa and the capture of King Rat in a cage are the best bits of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker - according to my young companion.
And although it’s uncool at 12-and-a-half to admit to being impressed by anything as ordinary as a touch of festive magic, Shelby was open-mouthed as the family Christmas tree and fireplace grew until the stage was filled with only the bottom branches and hearth.
“It feels as if everything else is shrinking,” she whispered, awestruck. “Oh, and wasn’t it clever how the Nutcracker head went back on?” she said later of the apparent miraculous mending of Clara’s doll decapitated by her naughty brother.
Shelby’s favourite scene was the glittering Land of Snow at the end of the first act but she saved her most enthusiastic applause for Sugar Plum and her Prince, danced by the deliciously dainty Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao. Her neat technical skill is the perfect foil for his spectacular jumps, turns, extensions - and rock-solid landings.
Later, we pondered on how Alexander Campbell as the Jack-in-the-Box had moved, let alone turned cartwheels, in his rippling spring-like trousers and whether children (younger than 12-and-a-half) might be scared by the vaguely sinister magician’s assistant, the fighting rats or the dolls that tipped Clara from her chair.
Peter Wright’s interpretation of this favourite Russian classic is a Christmas stocking stuffed with a box of magic tricks, gorgeous dressing-up clothes, toy soldiers, furry animals, dolls in national costumes and – right at the very end of the toe - a scrumptious sugar plum. But one doesn’t have to be a child, or have a couple to take along, to be captivated by the ballet’s festive spirit.
Sir Peter’s version for BRB – which promotes Clara to a teenage heroine and keeps her on stage from start to finish - reigns supreme in The Nutcracker catalogue. Created in 1990, it delivers the wow-factor year on year and has become as much a part of the run-up to Christmas as attending the school carol concert or dressing the tree.
* Running time: two hours, five minutes. Until December 13.