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Since the original Nutcracker made its debut in the early 1800s, there have been countless new productions of the story, each taking Tchaikovsky's score as source material and then creating a unique presentation of the ballet around it. This involves different sets, lighting, and of course choreography. Some may not even use all the music, abridging it to suit the story they wish to tell.
Likewise, the telling of the basic story itself may vary, with some adding extra features to the plot or omitting others. Constant elements tend to consist of a young girl Clara, who receives a Nutcracker Doll as a gift (some versions incredibly do not even set the story at Christmas time). Later the Doll is brought to life, and Clara shrinks to the size of the toys, before helping them win a battle against an army or rats with the aid of a cannily thrown ballet shoe. The Nutcracker Doll then turns into a handsome prince, and he and Clara travel through magical lands, witnessing a host of different dances. This culminates in Clara becoming the ballerina of her dreams – the Sugar Plum Fairy. All this then melts away, and she awakes back at home.
With these basic elements, producers have presented many different interpretations of the tale. Although dressed as a children's story, the original version has distinctly dark overtones; innocent events are mixed with the sinister, and reality and imagination meet head on. A more modern understanding of the story is that it represents Clara's journey through adolescence: she begins as a child playing with toys, and ends as a woman (the Sugar Plum Fairy) with her doll replaced by the romantic figure of the handsome prince.
Regardless of interpretation, however, the ballet is most constantly recognised a celebration of dance, and of Christmas time, as a sparkling and joyous family event with arguably the most famous and popular dance score ever written. When Sir Peter Wright came to produce Birmingham Royal Ballet's version of the story, his motivation was simply to create the warmest, most magical ballet that the audience had ever experienced. 'It was created just after the Company had relocated to Birmingham from London', the former BRB Director explains. 'I did it to show my gratitude to the City of Birmingham for its wonderful support and it is dedicated to them.'
As a result, you won't see this production of the ballet anywhere else in the UK. There are practical reasons for this as well; historically the Company has only ever toured the ballet to the Lowry in Salford and Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, as these are the only two other stages in the country big enough to contain the special effects-laden sets. As for the rest of the world, apart from BRB this particular production is currently only performed by one company in Japan (nearly 6,000 miles away from the UK) and one in Australia (nearly 9,000 miles), so if you're a home audience and you don't see it at Birmingham Hippodrome this Christmas, you've got some travelling to do!
Click here for details of all BRB performances of this ballet currently on sale.
BRB Ballet Master
'Nutcracker is always such a favourite; every year there's always going to be new dancers to watch - somebody new doing Sugar Plum Fairy or the Prince, or a couple of new Claras, so that's always something to look forward to. And even in the corps de ballet there's so many opportunities; you can spot the new up and coming dancers whether they're flowers or snowflakes. We've got such versatile dancers throughout the company, really exciting dancers - there's an awful lot of talent to watch out for.'
BRB's Head of Scenic Presentation
'I think John Macfarlane is a great designer, and the whole thing for me is about the transformations; how slick and clever they are. Everyone mentions the growing Christmas tree, but the one that always, always amazes me is how the big fireplace goes away before you visit the land of the snowflakes – you just don’t notice it going. As an audience you're suddenly presented with another place, and you just think "wow, how did they do that?"'
Click on the names for individual biographies
Music Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography Peter Wright; Vincent Redmon; Lev Ivanov
Production Peter Wright
Designs John F. Macfarlane
Lighting David Finn
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