Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Nutcracker: St Petersburg Ballet @ Royal Albert Hall, London

27 November 2006


The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

Every year, around Christmas, the Russian ballet companies begin touring the UK, hacking through the classics for the benefit of those who might otherwise never see them. The St Petersburg Ballet is one of the best around – it may not be old or particularly established, but it has conjured a formidable reputation for itself that all but sold out the Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening. With both the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet about to unveil their popular stagings of The Nutcracker, what were the merits of this performance?

The obvious one was Irina Kolesnikova, whose natural beauty, depth of feeling and apparently never-ending extensions amounted to a gorgeous portrayal of Clara. In Act One she perhaps did not quite look suited to the role of a young girl, but as the evening progressed her figure relaxed into flowing legato passages – by the end, it was impossible not to be transfixed. Dmitry Akulinin was not as secure in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. He mustered the most dazzling of leaps, but his preparation on the ground seemed fussy. He also needs to work on supporting his ballerina, for even the most basic matter of ‘which hand goes where?’ seemed to tax him.

All soloists were confident and techniques were of a consistently high level. The Chinese duet in Act Three was not quite aligned, but elsewhere Pavel Kholoimenko was a dashing Drosselmeyer; Yegor Davidov an amusing Mouse King; Anastasia Khabarova an effortful but convincing Snow Queen.

But oh, if only all else had been of such quality. The Royal Albert Hall, on this evidence, is no place for ballet. With the action squashed onto a miniscule stage, much of the performance felt constricted. The snowflakes scene in particular did not flow as it should. The traditional staging was pretty but constructed of a flimsy material that threatened to either rip or topple at any moment. Luckily the superlative lighting – equal to any moment of drama and especially gorgeous when evoking snow – compensated. But why the set was so low down is anyone’s guess, since it meant that most in the Arena watched the ballet through the orchestra. And a ravishingly colourful orchestral performance it was too from the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Orchestra, who lacked some finesse but enjoyed every moment of the score.

Luckily, with the corps united in technical competence and, just as vitally, in spirit, this was a good performance. Try the Royal Ballet next month for a great one.


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The Nutcracker: St Petersburg Ballet @ Royal Albert Hall, London