London’s Nutcrackers are no match for America’s best

London’s Nutcrackers are no match for America’s best

Alastair Macaulay

norman lebrecht

December 21, 2021

Alastair Macaulay, former chief dance critic of the New York Times, runs the rule over seasonal offerings at Covent Garden and English National Ballet:

London’s big ballet companies are not where anyone should hope to find an even tolerable “Nutcracker”. Neither the Royal Ballet’s production (Peter Wright, 1984, revised 1999 and subsequently, each time for the worse) nor English National Ballet’s (2010, Wayne Eagling, adapted from one he made earlier for Dutch National Ballet) is remotely as good as those danced by Ballet Arizona (Ib Andersen – Phoenix, Arizona), Ballet West (America’s oldest, created by Willam Christensen, Salt Lake City), Richmond Ballet (Stoner Winslett – Richmond, Virginia), American Ballet Theatre (Alexei Ratmansky) or New York City Ballet (George Balanchine, whose version – the most dramatically sublime, musically attentive, and compositionally fascinating – is also staged by seven or more other companies).

A core element of the secret poignancy of “The Nutcracker”, as planned by Marius Petipa and Peter Tchaikovsky, is that Drosselmayer and the Sugarplum Fairy never meet. (Tchaikovsky may have seen himself as Drosselmayer; in the Sugarplum, he may been sublimating his beloved sister Sasha Davidova, who died before he began work on Act Two.) Both Peter Wrong and Wayne Eagling make the gross blunders of having Drosselmayer appear in Act Two, like a puppet-master doubling as the Sugarplum’s Maître D’. Mr Wrong (as Arlene Croce first named him in 1970) mauls most of the divertissements by having Clara (an adult, natch) and Drosselmayer’s Nutcracker nephew (another adult) join in, as if Spanish and Russian dancing were something that a pair of infantilised grownups can just pick up in a moment. The Wrong staging actually proves so inept that those two, Clara and the Nephew, then have to park themselves on the floor against the Covent Garden proscenium arch during the Sugarplum pas de deux: as if neither Sugarplum nor Drosselmayer could offer them a seat….

Read on here.



  • Edward says:

    Especially as the opera house have cancelled loads of them

  • William Evans says:

    Well, I for one always enjoy the Peter Wright staging with designs by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman.

  • IC225 says:

    Times change, the years come and go, but the Anglophobia of the New York arts commentariat springs eternal. This is so cloth-eared that it’s almost funny. One wonders if they ever fully realise just how provincial they look to the rest of the world.

  • operacentric says:

    Couldn’t help thinking much of the same watching the cinema relay the other day. The Act 2 designs are dreary and the costumes just blue against all the creamy pink. Drosselmayer has become a total stage hog – why on earth was he directing the diverstissements, and occupying the seat obviously intended for the honoured guests they were performing for? Im sure when I last saw the production there was a flying sleigh with Clara and the Nutcracker zoom across the sky at the end of Act 1. I still hate the foam rubber wings on the angels, though the smoke helps them to glide around quite nicely. In the cinema, the front front scrim is very visible, like a fishing net hanging in front of the dancers.

  • CarlD says:

    Crazy that he wouldn’t mention the hugely beloved annual performances of the Philadelphia Ballet at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

  • Karl says:

    Do they perform the Hip Hop Nutcracker in London?

  • Frank says:

    Critics whining about the Nutcracker is a major holidays tradition.
    BTW I agree that sometimes it’s best to enjoy the show with one’s eyes closed and just focus on the music.

  • Douglas says:

    It is interesting that the review ends with a tribute to the music of Tchaikovsky.
    I have always marvelled at the hubris of the title “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”.