Melissa Blease reviews Moscow City Ballet’s The Nutcracker, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 23 January

Christmas is little more than a distant memory: the fairy lights have been switched off, the tree’s been dumped and most of the gifts have been earmarked for re-gifting. But this isn’t the case, however, at the Theatre Royal Bath, where The Moscow City ballet have taken up residence for a couple of nights to sprinkle seasonal fairy dust across our hearts and minds courtesy of the magical tale of The Nutcracker, based on Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation of ETA Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and – of course – set to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s breathtakingly romantic score.

The Moscow City Ballet was founded in 1988 by the distinguished Russian choreographer (and former Bolshoi Ballet soloist) Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, with an aim to promote the original ideas of the great 19th and 20th century choreographers. While the integrity of classic tradition forms a solid foundation for all MCB productions, Smirnov-Golovanov’s interpretations of the world’s best-loved classical ballets could never be described as staid; his dancers are encouraged to bring character, personality and, where appropriate, wit to tales that, in the hands of less passionate company founders, can often be over-familiar to the point of leaden. And this production is about as far from leaden as we can possibly get.

Sets and backdrops, from first scenes to finale, are richly-textured works of art that add further layers of enchantment to an already other-worldly tale without detracting from the physical and creative showmanship in the spotlight. Costumes flit gracefully between simply elegant and lavishly baroque according to character, and the Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra conducted by Vadim Perevoznikov create a lush, plush pillow of aural elation throughout. As for the icing on this already sumptuous cake…

Ksnya Stankevich is a charming but complex, supremely charismatic Clara: she may appear to be as fragile as a young fawn in the opening scenes, but the floaty frock and the wide-eyed innocence cleverly belie the maturity of both the character and this young principal’s impeccable poise, style and strength. As the Nutcracker Prince, Dzimitry Lazovic is a suitably fine suitor for our leading lady, elevating a role that’s often kicked to the ‘support act’ kerb to superstar heights on many levels – boy, can this boy Jeté! As can mysterious magician Drosselmeier Daniil Orlov is great fun, exuding swagger and panache. 

But of course, The Nutcracker is an ensemble piece that heavily relies on the engagement, commitment and application of every single member of the company in order to bring the ballet’s full magic to life – and we’re most definitely on full magic territory here, particularly in Act II when we’re on the guest list for the entertainment programme laid on in the Kingdom of Sweets to reward Clara for her help in saving the life of the Nutcracker and defeating the Mouse King. A series of Spanish-, Russian- and Eastern- themed dance cameos – each individually, spectacularly stunning – punctuate the journey towards one of The Nutcracker’s most eagerly anticipated highlights, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, arguably one the most beautiful and technically demanding solos in classic ballet, expertly executed by Lilia Orekhova. 

The Moscow City Ballet’s Nutcracker is sublime on many levels: it’s a sparkling, dynamic, sensory ode to the extraordinary alchemy of classical ballet, as fresh and invigorating as first snow, yet as familiar and comforting as a soft, cosy blanket. And The Nutcracker is most definitely not just for Christmas – when it’s this well-packaged, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.