A fantasy flight to a frozen fairyland
A grand party on Christmas Eve. Excited children discovering gifts under the tree. A fantasy flight to a frozen fairyland. And good overcoming evil. The Nutcracker is a story that sprinkles magic over the season like snowflakes over rooftops and frosting over festive cakes. The ballet we know today owes its origins to a tale called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written in 1816 by Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffmann. In 1892, composer Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov took an adaptation by Alexandre Dumas and created a ballet. But it’s Peter Wright’s rendition, first staged with the Royal Ballet in 1984, that has set the scene and the seal for The Nutcracker we know and love today.
The action centres on Clara, a young girl who is given a nutcracker doll in the shape of a soldier, made by her gifted godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer. Later that night, as Clara falls asleep beside the Christmas tree, the toys come alive, with the nutcracker battling the malevolent Mouse King and his battalions of mice (Clara helps dispatch the foe with a strategic rap of her ballet slipper). In victory, the nutcracker, now transformed into a prince, whisks Clara off to the Land of Snow before arriving at the Land of Sweets. There, they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, who beguiles with her dancing, delighting Clara, her prince and packed audiences alike. The Nutcracker is as much a part of Christmas as holly, crackers and mince pies – a tradition for many families. It’s a captivating introduction to ballet for young children, not to mention the chance for every ballet company in the world to express the exuberance of the colourful roles. So much so, English National Ballet is dancing it at the London Coliseum, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet is appearing at the Royal Albert Hall.
The classic production is just a few steps from One Aldwych at the Royal Opera House, with a visit to the famous venue all part of the dreamlike indulgence. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the highlight, performed to the ethereal, bell-like tones of an instrument called a celesta. A spine-tingling performance in a sparkling set is one of the pinnacle moments in a prima ballerina’s career. Physically demanding, it’s her aim to make it look utterly effortless, and the fancy footwork, featherlight, as if she is barely touching the floor. So uplifting is the ballet that you too will leave the auditorium walking on air, until you relax back at the hotel, sink into the soft sofas of the Lobby Bar under our own fabulous tree, ready to sip one of our enchanted cocktails. Here’s – and cheers – to your very own winter wonderland.