Christmas London Life

THE NUTCRACKER BALLET

03/01/2018

The Nutcracker Ballet is as much a Christmas tradition as Christmas itself and I’ve loved the ballet ever since I can remember. It’s every little girls’ dream to be a ballerina, to wear the fairy like sparkling tutu’s and dance elegantly and romantically to the music of Tchaikovsky and feel like a princess….to be in the arms of a strong handsome leading man, dancing together to beautiful music, can there ever be anything more romantic?

Going to the ballet is a tradition that I started with my daughter when she was little, every Christmas we go to either the Royal Opera House, home to the Royal Ballet or the English National Ballet at the Coliseum to watch the Nutcracker, it just depends where I’m lucky enough to get tickets.  It isn’t just the Nutcracker, sometimes it could be Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake that’s on during December and either of those ballets are beautiful productions, it’s just something special that we like to do over Christmas.

When my son was younger, we would always go to a play at the Theatre, for example, we’ve watched Shrek, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Snowman and The Lion King over the years but now he’s older, naturally, he’s outgrown this yearly ritual but no matter what age my daughter is, we will continue to go to the ballet if not every year, at least every two years and when she grows up, I hope it’s a tradition that will continue with not just me and her but also her children if she is blessed that way.

Over the years, my mum has also accompanied us, and we’ve watched several ballets together, her favourite being Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House.  The Royal Opera House is a magical venue in the heart of Covent Garden, the lovely thing is, you can make a memorable evening out of it by booking their restaurant in advance which we’ve done in the past.  A couple of years ago, we watched Swan Lake at The Royal Opera House, we ate a delicious three course dinner with dessert themed around Swan Lake, it was a choice of two, one was a choux pastry in the shape of a swan and filled with a delicious passion fruit cream and drizzled with white chocolate and sparkles. You begin the meal with champagne which is only fitting since you are in the most magical arena of all to watch the most magical and enchanting of ballets, Swan Lake.

The Royal Opera House’s original construction was in 1732, it’s home to the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The current building is the third theatre on the site following a couple of fires in 1808 and 1856, the façade, foyer and auditorium date from 1858, almost every other element dates from extensive restoration which took place in the 1990’s. The auditorium seats 2,256 people making it the third largest in London and consists of four tiers of boxes and balconies, the amphitheatre gallery.

In contrast, the Coliseum is a newer building constructed in 1904 a little bit further down in St Martin’s Lane near Charing Cross. It was built by theatrical architect Frank Matcham who intended it to be one of London’s largest and most luxurious family variety theatres. The design of the theatre is of a Baroque style richly decorated with classical detailing and opulence. It’s certainly a majestic theatre that is quite steep from the ground level/stalls, dress circle, upper circle and balcony seats, the higher you go, the cheaper the tickets as is the same at the Royal Opera House. I always worry for older and disabled people who’ve bought some of the cheaper balcony tickets, seats can be small and a bit uncomfortable too and views are often restricted but those who say the ballet and opera isn’t affordable really haven’t researched or booked ahead of time, if you’re willing to sit at the very top tiers, you get to experience something really special for as little as £20 per person. Having said that, I haven’t been to an opera yet, but I’d love to and I’ll try my best to make 2018 the year I attend my first opera.

The Coliseum is richly decorated.

This photo from the balcony seats give you an idea of how steep the London’s theatres can be.

My dream would actually be to attend the opera or ballet at Paris’ Opera Garnier, a really rich, opulent and ornate building full of gilded gold, it’s a beautiful theatre and must be magical to watch a ballet or an opera and the same has to be said for Vienna. When I visited Vienna 10 years ago, I was stopped every five minutes to purchase a ticket for the ballet or opera or other musical event but unfortunately, we were only there for two nights so I couldn’t really justify spending a whole evening at a theatre but it being late November and Christmas in full swing, it would have been a wonderful thing to do but there’s always next time.

Coming back to the NutcrackerBallet, my daughter and I went to see it at the Coliseum last Thursday, two days after Christmas.  Yes, we’re familiar with the story and the music but it doesn’t matter how well you know this ballet, it’s simply magical to watch the ballerina’s dance so enchantingly and as light as feathers and to listen to the evocative music which is so expressive stirring up powerful emotions within. If I must be honest, for me, the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House has the edge on this production and it was three years ago when I last saw their version of the Nutcracker but it’s nice to have the choice for a bit of variety.

At both the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum, you can order drinks at the interval via an app so that’s what I did the morning of the event, you also pay for it via the app so there isn’t any waiting around or queuing and since intervals are short around 15-20 minutes, I really recommend this.  I ordered a glass of prosecco and rose lemonade for Zoe which was all ready and waiting for us with our names on at the bar and since this year, our balcony seats were very near the bar, we managed to grab a table too!! I must also add, when you attend the ballet, understandably no photography is allowed once the performance starts.

Clara and her godfather with the Nutcracker doll.

The Nutcracker ballet was inspired by the book “The Story of a Nutcracker” by Alexandre Dumas, his story was an adaptation of a dark fairy-tale called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” written by E.T.A Hoffman in 1816. The original ballet was created with an original music score composed by world famous musician/composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and it was first performed in St Petersburg in 1892. The Royal Ballet’s production was created by Peter Wright and first premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1984, that surprised me a bit as I thought it would have been many years before that.

The story begins on Christmas Eve when Clara Stahlbaum and her family who are hosting a big Christmas party, Clara’s mysterious godfather arrives and gives Clara a special Christmas present of a beautiful Nutcracker doll. Clara’s brother Fritz is jealous of the gift, they fight, and the Nutcracker is broken much to Clara’s dismay. Clara’s godfather is very good with magic and inventions and so mends the doll.  Later that night Clara creeps downstairs to check on her new toy, the clock strikes midnight as in all good fairy tales and suddenly all the toys come to life.

Clara finds herself in the middle of a battle between the toy soldiers and the greedy mice, she is surprised to see the Nutcracker doll lead the soldiers into battle who take on the seven-headed Mouse King. The story sees Clara helping the Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King, the spell is broken, the Nutcracker is transformed into a young man, he tells Clara he is Hans-Peter, the nephew of her godfather who was cursed by the Mouse King’s mother many years before.

The Snowflake dance.

Together Clara, Hans-Peter and Drosselmeyer (Clara’s godfather) travel on a sleigh to a faraway land travelling through the Land of Snow and finally to the Kingdom of Sweets, how wonderful is that! Here they meet the famous Sugar Plum Fairy, we all know the music from the Cadburys fruit and nut advert which was always on telly many years ago.

The Sugar Plum Fairy.

The Sugar Plum Fairy welcomes them into her kingdom and introduces them to her friends, everyone dances in celebration. It’s getting late for Clara and she soon finds herself floating back to her bed. She wakes on Christmas morning wondering if this adventure was just a dream but outside, she sees a boy who looks very familiar, you can make your own mind up if Clara was dreaming or did this magical adventure really happen?

The Arabian dancers in the Kingdom of Sweets.

During the performance you are treated to exquisite dancing and captivating music by Tchaikovsky whose memorable melodies have ingrained themselves deep within.  In Act Two which is after the interval, the Land of the Sweets and the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is the embodiment of this ballet’s enchantment, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance is one of a dream come true for Clara where each dance represents sweets and other gifts, it’s one where all children can relate to and makes this ballet an ideal Christmas treat.

Above and below, Clara and the Prince.

Zoe and I loved it, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how many times you’ve seen the Nutcracker and at whatever venue including the Royal Albert Hall which often puts on ballet performances I forgot to add, you are left feeling all fuzzy and warm inside, that you’ve just returned from a magical fairy paradise with the everlasting memory of graceful dancing and enchanting music, it’s real treat for everyone…. until next Christmas.

The London Coliseum

St Martin’s Lane

London

WC2N 4ES

020 7845 9300

Box.office@eno.org

 

The Royal Opera House

Bow Street

Covent Garden

WC2E 9DD

020 7304 4000

 

 

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