For many, a trip to the ballet is a staple of the Christmas calendar – and few shows are quite as festive as The Nutcracker. The two-act ballet with a score written by Russian composer Tchaikovsky first graced the stage of Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1892, writes Holly O’Mahony…
The story itself is based on German author E.T.A Hoffmann’s 1816 tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which follows what happens when a young girl’s favourite Christmas toy, a nutcracker, comes to life, whisking her away to a magical kingdom.
The Nutcracker has long been popular with audiences the world over but this winter it’s really under the spotlight. In London alone, there are three large-scale productions of it currently delighting audiences: The Royal Ballet’s production at the Royal Opera House, the English National Ballet’s version at London Coliseum, and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production which has returned to the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. Meanwhile in cinemas, Disney’s live action film version of the story – The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – is now showing, starring Mackenzie Foy as the protagonist Clara, Morgan Freeman as her godfather and Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Tickets to see the ballet, though, often come with an extortionate price tag. At the Royal Opera House, for example, you’d be hard pushed to find seats for less than £50. Times that by however many family members you’re looking to buy for and for many families it’s just not doable. It’s for that reason that incentives like the Picturehouse live screenings of ballets, operas and major plays are so important. One such screening this festive season is the live broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, coming to Greenwich Picturehouse all the way from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.
The Bolshoi Ballet is an internationally renowned classical ballet company based in Moscow, Russia. Founded in 1776, the Bolshoi is among the world’s oldest ballet companies, and along with the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, the Bolshoi is recognised as one of the foremost ballet companies in the world.
“This production [of The Nutcracker] was first staged long ago in 1966 by renowned Russian choreographer Yury Grigorovich and has since become one of the most beloved titles in the Bolshoi repertoire,” explains Katerina Novikova, head of press for the Bolshoi Ballet. For Katerina, the beauty of the production comes from Grigorovich’s ability to tell the surface story of a war with mice in a world of dolls, while also conveying deep human feelings of love and loneliness.
Does the experience of watching the ballet in the cinema match that of seeing it live on stage, I wonder. “Well if you are in a square where on your left you have a theatre and on your right you have a cinema, I would suggest going to the theatre,” says Katerina. “But our audience [for the UK-wide screening of The Nutcracker] is thousands of kilometers from Moscow,” she points out. “We are grateful to Pathee and Bel Air Media that through this project we can reach such a wide audience worldwide.”
An advantage of the cinema screenings, Katerina adds, is that all audience members get to see the production from the viewpoint of the very best seats in the house – and even see backstage. “It allows audience members to become true eyewitnesses,” she says. “Moreover, the cinema screenings allow you to share your emotions with people around you – that’s the most important thing.”
Bolshoi Ballet’s The Nutcracker is being screened live at Greenwich Picturehouse, 180 Greenwich High Road, SE10 8NN. December 23 at 3pm. Admission: £22/£17.50 concessions/£10 children.