The Nutcracker, St David's Hall

The Russian National Ballet opened its season of the three great Tchaikowsky ballets (The Nutcracker/Sleeping Beauty/Swan Lake) with the most magical of all ballets - a fairytale romance that has become something of a Christmas tradition.

This was a pared down version with a relatively small company of dancers who sometimes looked lost on the large stage, and a scaled down orchestra – not ideal in music of such lushness and colour.

The initial impression was of performers who had given this performance on too many previous occasions. There was a distinct lack of sparkle in the opening Christmas Eve celebration and much of the dancing was on the 'safe' side with little to set the pulse racing.

Added to this was some distinctly shaky playing of this wonderful score (Tchaikowsky believed it to be his best music) and the orchestra certainly fell below the professional standards that we are now so accustomed to. The strings, in particular, were often guilty of poor ensemble and inaccurate intonation.

However, things picked up in the second act with a particularly striking sequence of character dances from the Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and French dolls providing more variety of movement and a much needed greater sense of abandon. Principal dancer Maria Klyueva, in the role of Marie, also brought the performance to a magical conclusion with her swirling waltz with the Prince in the royal wedding scene.

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