The Nutcracker – Nunez, Muntagirov, Hayward, – January 8 2016 – The Royal Ballet

The main event here for me was to see Vadim Muntagirov.  The role he was performing is light on content, being truly a supporting role – that of partnering Marianela Núñez gallantly. The demands of the performance, the classical stylings and steps are firmly within his comfort zone, and allowed him to display his considerable skill to good effect.

There was however for me a suggestion of too much comfort in places, or rather, not enough passion.  Muntagirov’s variations were models of pellucid, technically beautiful style: his landings were wonderful to see, but in his dancing with Nunez there seemed to be a distinct lack of that special something. Partnering seemed dutiful rather than buoyant. They seemed to approach the pas de deux a little timorously. I am perhaps being very difficult about a very minor thing. Facility in execution was there, Nunez’s fouettés executed with panache – but some measure of magic was absent. In any case, I’m not sure the role of princess is really Núñez ‘s most comfortable role deep down. Nevertheless, she delivered all engagingly, with her trademark genuine smile.

No such trouble for Gary Avis though. If anything he has yet improved again on his last performance. It may be that he (and the rest of the cast) had watched their own live relay cinema broadcast back, looking for points to improve. Certainly Avis was even more believable in gathering the eldritch forces of Christmas tree growth, and he was Drosselemeyer once more to the tips of his finger – which in places he now wiggles to add true lustre and sparkle to the act of magic. Delightful through and through.

Seeing the show three times with a favourite cast will make one sound like a broken record of course. Even so, I’ll play the same track about Francesca Hayward, who too might have watched her own performance again. Her gift for acting is astonishing. Investment in purpose and presentation animate her dance. Credulity is never in question. Her talent for phrasing reveals itself in softness of address – her backwards bouree, and gathering arms rising from the floor are one such moment – and she has that winning smile which radiates joy. In the Chinese Variation this all integrated to a picture of delight when she was dancing with the two parasols. Truly she glows. Memorably, at the close of the ballet, Clara realises she is wearing the necklace gifted by the citizens of the Kingdom of Sweets. Hayward showed this moment magnificently. She was dazzled in memory, as we were, and knew memory to be real. We in the audience felt the same: memory was in fact akin to truth. I hope for much more from this fine young dancer.

I found myself preferring Alexander Campbell as her Nutcracker to Valentino Zucchetti’s Nutcracker/Nephew. Campbell acts the “narration scene” a little better, and I think is suited to the demands of the choreography slightly more. That said, Zucchetti was excellent in the Trepak dance, and couldn’t be faulted elsewhere. This is unashamed personal preference, only because Mr Campbell was so nice to see and works so well with Hayward.

Yuhui Choe as Rose Fairy was also, “nice to see”. She was precise in all she did, and I think part of why she looks good in whatever she does is linked to her dainty hands. It gives her arms a quickness and lightness which sets off everything else. It reinforces her keen musicality too. I particularly enjoyed seeing musical phrasing reflected in her use of the arms, whether by punctuation, emphases or mere flow. A muttered comment behind me may have been directed at her (and the mutterer’s seat neighbour) and it concerned personality and a small ‘lack of’ it. The comment was unfounded. Rose Fairy isn’t Clara, or an Odette, and Choe was direct in characterisation, and gave a good perfomance. No demerits from me, only praise.

Mention must go also to Olivia Grace Cowley in the Arabian. Her three suitors are called to carry her as one, and then to lower her gently to the floor, her knee extended, her other leg horizontal. The lowering was here a little less than gentle. One heard the distinct noise of something bodily contacting something immovable. No big deal, I thought, until a little later when blood started to stain her trousers at the knee! No sign of pain or discomfort from Ms Cowley, she carried on smiling and sultrily dancing. Remarkable professionalism, frankly.

I’d also like to mention Sacha Barber as Fritz, who was splendidly bratish (well done, Master Barber!) And to offer plaudits to Elizabeth Harrod as Columbine, who was winningly delicate and doll-like. I was slightly less taken with her Harlequin (Kevin Emerton) although he was strong in the jerkiness of the arms. It was a pleasure to spot Mayara Magri in the Kingdom scenes and as Vivandiere. The Mirlitons whirled magically as a unit.

In sum, the partnership first mentioned above was more than adequate, though I had hoped for magic. To have had a pairing more to my own liking would merely have been the icing on this exquisite cake.



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