ROH Live: The Nutcracker

Choreography: Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Conductor: Barry Wordsworth Christmas is a special time of year,…

Choreography: Peter Wright after Lev Ivanov
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor: Barry Wordsworth

Christmas is a special time of year, conjuring up images of sparkling snowflakes and glittering Christmas trees. Children are filled with wonder, excited by the brightly-wrapped presents under the tree and the toys they may contain. Which is how one magical journey begins…

The Nutcracker tells a much-loved Christmas tale, and The Royal Ballet’s production is a modern classic in its own right. It may start in a family living room at its cosiest, bustling with relatives and friends, but late on Christmas Eve all that changes. Young Clara creeps downstairs to look at the presents under the tree. Toys come to life, her Nutcracker doll does too. Before she knows it, she finds herself thrown into the middle of toy soldiers battling the villainous Mouse King and his army. Could Clara’s mysterious and magical godfather Herr Drosselmeyer have something to do with all this?

This famous ballet from 1892 was given a particularly spell-binding staging by Peter Wright for The Royal Ballet in 1984 and it has become a regular, much-anticipated, sell-out classic of Christmas theatre. The choreography is all that classical ballet should be, with detailed storytelling alongside stunning dance. The Grand pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince is one of the most famous and breathtaking in ballet: a triumph of virtuoso skill, energy and elegance. Tchaikovsky’s score contains some of the most charming and memorable of all ballet music, especially for the magical world of Act II where the ‘Dance Of The Reed Flutes’ and the ‘Waltz Of The Flowers’ are just two instantly recognisable pieces in a score that is enchanting from start to finish.

The story was originally written for children by E. T. A. Hoffmann in 1816, only a few years after the Grimm Brothers published their Children’s And Household Tales. It was adapted in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas père, after some children at a festive gathering tied him to a chair and demanded he tell them a story. Like the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the story of The Nutcracker captivates the child’s imagination: toys coming to life (the Nutcracker, the soldiers, a rabbit drummer and even the gingerbreads hanging on the Christmas tree), and the tree itself which seems magically to grow to enormous proportions as Clara shrinks to the size of the mice, toys and decorations whose story she follows.

The Nutcracker is an extraordinary ballet that charms all ages in equal measure. And every return visit adds to that special magic of the first. Of all ballets, this is the one that has proved down the generations that it is for everyone. And what better time to share such family spirit with Clara, her Nutcracker and all the wintry delights of a magical Christmas Eve.


ROH Live: The Nutcracker screens as part of The Enchanted Screen: A Season of Folk and Fairytale Films and Screen Arts on Tuesday 5 December.

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