There is no such thing as an authentic The Nutcracker. Ever since the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg produced the first Nutcracker in 1892, artistic directors since then have put their own stamp on the ballet. Besides, there is no rule on how many mice will invade Clara's nightmare, or whether the sleigh magically rises to the snowy heavens. Just be sure that the Christmas tree grows, mice attack toy soldiers, and that the Sugar Plum Fairy reigns.
Not surprisingly, The Royal Ballet's version "filmed live," screened in over 800 movie theaters across the globe Sunday, was English to the core. It could have come straight out of Dickens' Christmas Carol, for while the home of the Stahlbaum's is huge, it is dark and gloomy, the guests are keyed up but contained, and the décor brown, brown and brown. What little color there is shows up in Drosselmeyer's swirly, cerulean cape, in the Nutcracker's red jacket, and in the young girls' pale blue or pink sashes.
As though the story needed some tweaking, Sir Peter Wright threw in his own embellishments, creating a story within the story. The ballet begins in the toymaker Drosselmeyer's tiny workroom where his wooden nutcracker can only return to human form—having been transformed by a wicked Mouse—when someone loves him. He wraps the nutcracker in cloth and sends his errand boy to deliver it to the Stahlbaum's Christmas Eve party.
The boy's sudden appearance wearing a mask and carrying a satchel creates a stir and sets the tone of anticipation. The Stahlbaum's gloomy grand ballroom creates yet more mystery. Alas, we don't get the full experience because the camera continues to home in as though we might miss Clara's delighted eyes as she dances with Drosselmeyer's handsome nephew. There is a lot more going on at the party that we miss—but at least not naughty Fritz's antics, and his gleeful plots and pouts.
As Clara, Meaghan Grace Hinkis is everything we would want in a girl budding into adulthood (although played by an adult) and Fritz (Johnny Randall) is gratifyingly bratty.
The camera work is even more frustrating in the big ensemble pieces, "Snow" and "Waltz of the Flowers." All of those lovely patterns and the sweep and flow are chopped up and broken into fragments. That's a shame because Clara and the Nutcracker (Ricardo Cervera)—now turned into a real person—weave their way in and out of both scenes in a seamless, heady rush, enthralled by each other and the joys in their midst.
Fortunately, the camera allows us to watch from afar as the Christmas tree grows and grows and grows, which could only happen when you have a very high proscenium and deep stage, as does the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden where the ballet was filmed. The grandeur of the setting is matched by the opulence and detail of the costumes—perhaps those tutus with their embroidered gems and attention to detail cost as much as several thousand dollars each.
The palette of brown and cream for the partygoers turns into cream, mauve, persimmon, gold and silver in the second act. The Snowflakes are all blond, the Angels red-haired, and the Waltz of the Flowers, Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince golden-haired. Tiaras and crowns are a must.
And gold seems just right for these dancers, especially the Rose Fairy, the principal dancer in Waltz of the Flowers (Laura Morera), whose smallest turn is executed with a security that is breathtaking; gold is perfect too for the gilded delicacy of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the soaring leaps of the Prince.
The elegance of a bygone age has been recaptured in this Nutcracker.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill and Dance Magazine.