3 December 2015 at 11.30am | 3 Comments
Levitating children, on-stage explosions, astonishing magic tricks and a spectacular, growing Christmas tree – The Nutcracker is packed full of remarkable illusions and special effects. Among all of this wizardry, much of which relies on extensive behind-the scenes technical preparation, one of the ballet’s most magical scenes is in fact its simplest: the moment at the end of Act I when Clara and Hans-Peter find themselves whisked away to an enchanted land and snow begins to fall.
The Waltz of the Snowflakes, as it has become known, was one of the most accomplished and best-loved scenes in Lev Ivanov’s original 1892 production of The Nutcracker. However, the ballet had a troubled inception – proving largely unpopular among audiences and critics – and its choreography, including that for the snowflakes, was consequently replaced over the years. When Peter Wright created his 1984 production of The Nutcracker for The Royal Ballet, he decided to incorporate what remains of the original Waltz. With the help of Professor Roland John Wiley, he used his own steps to reconstruct the floor patterns danced by Ivanov’s female corps de ballet, forming his own version of this glittering snowstorm.
The snowflakes start to fall to the fluttering of Tchaikovsky’s flutes, drifting onto stage with lightning-quick runs and dainty pas de chats into arabesque before disappearing. The magician Drosselmeyer intends to show his guests, the young Clara and Hans-Peter, the magic of a white Christmas. He sweeps his arms overhead and, with a glimmer of his fingers, whips up a storm. The snowflake corps begin to blow on in gusts, bourréeing and balancéing in small groups until the stage is filled with a shimmering flurry of white.
Clara and Hans-Peter appear during a lull in the blizzard, as the corps women kneel to the floor – sweeping their arms in synchronized ports de bras with twinkling fingers – and a distant choir begins to sing. The couple dance together, he spinning her in pirouettes, whipping her round in arabesque and lifting her into the air as she floats and skips through the snow. Then the wind picks up again and the snowflakes rise to form three circles, one of which surrounds the pair.
As Clara and Hans-Peter continue to dance, the women move in and out of groups and constellations that recall both flurries of snow being buffeted about by squally winds, and the intricate, geometric structures of snowflakes. Here, just as described by a fan of Ivanov’s original Nutcracker, ‘the hachures and patterns of snow crystals, the monograms and arabesques of the plastique of frost [gather] into one well-proportioned, artistically finished vision’. The music builds and the women come together to form a wheel, like the crystals of a giant snowflake. Clara and Hans-Peter link hands with them as they spin round the stage, swept along by a series of fleet ballonnés and petits jetés.
Once again, it seems as if the wind dips momentarily before lifting again – this time blowing a real gale. Violins chatter and cymbals crash as the snowflakes are whipped about, their ballonnés, posé turns and grands jetés en avant appearing to be driven by strong gusts as glittering flakes of snow begin to fall from above the stage.
At last, the storm begins to die down. Hans-Peter takes Clara’s hand and they walk through the drifting snowflakes – mirroring the corps’ gently wafting ports de bras – to meet Drosselmeyer. The magician summons his magical carriage, driven by an angel, and helps the couple on board. As he sends them off to continue their journey, the snowflakes bourée into shimmering lines before settling at last as the curtain falls.
The Nutcracker runs from 23 November 2016 –12 January 2017. Tickets are still available.
The production is supported is given with generous philanthropic support from Hans and Julia Rausing, Peter Lloyd and the Friends of Covent Garden.