What happens when you want to take a treasured production, like Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker, and transfer it to the Royal Albert Hall?
This December, for the first time ever, Birmingham Royal Ballet brings this festive favourite to the Hall – the quintessential Christmas treat for all the family!
We asked David Bintley, director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, about the process of transferring the show.
When we were first approached by Royal Albert Hall about the possibility of staging our Nutcracker there, we immediately spoke to Peter Wright (who choreographed the BRB’s ) and John Macfarlane, the designer. It quickly became clear that changes would need to be made, and both Peter and John encouraged us to move away from their production. This turned out to be what was needed; it gave us the creative release to start thinking about the ballet slightly differently.
Although it is largely Peter’s production that will be staged in London, because we will be in such a radically different space, and because we can’t have the scenery, we have had to find other ways of telling the story, even changing it slightly. What you take for granted in the proscenium production, you can’t take for granted on the thrust stage in the Royal Albert Hall, and it is amazing how much of the story is actually told through the scenery, and, indeed, how many of the illogicalities of the story the scenery makes you forget.
Changing the Story
We’ve had to alter the narrative a bit and we’ve taken the opportunity to make it flow a little more logically, too. I went back to the original source material, E.T.A. Hoffman’s Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and I’ve looked at Drosselmeyer not as a conjurer or magician, but as a doll maker, a creator of automata, a bit like Dr Coppélius.
I’ve had to change the slant of the story too. Rather than Clara journeying to the kingdom of the sweets, and all of these people of different nationalities turning up (which is definitely magical, but not very logical), in this version, the magical kingdom will spring from the mind of Drosselmeyer. It will be Drosselmeyer who has created these mysterious people: the dolls that Drosselmeyer gives the children in Act I will, much like the Nutcracker Doll and the Soldiers we already have, come to life as the characters in Act II. Similarly, rather than Clara becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy at the end, she is instead given a ballerina doll that comes to life.
In terms of the space, it’s not simply a case of scaling up – it’s super scaling! In the proscenium production we have a large tree and a fireplace that grow to enormous proportions but, in the vastness of the Albert Hall, we are starting with a six-metre tree, just for it to even register!
In order to make that grow even larger, we’re working with one of the top projection companies in the world, 59 Productions. They are sector leaders – they have projected onto Boeing 747s, Sydney Opera House and Edinburgh Castle, and they worked on the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. Just have a look at their website see quite how extraordinary their work is.
A new set
Obviously, we will also need some new scenery, as very little from the Birmingham production can transfer. For this, I turned to Dick Bird. Dick is a great colleague who I’ve worked with before, on Aladdin, for example. He has the ability to make magic out of nothing; he designed Kate Bush’s 2014 show, which was simply amazing.
Where does the orchestra go?
The last major change will be the position and role of the orchestra. There’s no pit at the Albert Hall, and no way of creating one, so the orchestra will be on a raised platform, above the stage, in front of the organ. They will become part of the theatre of it all – an even more important part of what the audience will see and hear.
It is, perhaps, an over-used word these days, but the idea is to make this Nutcracker immersive; an experience, different from a normal proscenium theatre show. The audience will feel more ‘in’ the production, rather than being sat in front of it. Some of the audience might even get snow on them, or find a rat under their seat!
Thursday 28 – Sunday 31 December 2017
For the first time ever, Birmingham Royal Ballet brings an enchanting production of this Christmas favourite to the Royal Albert Hall. This magical ballet, with its ravishing Tchaikovsky score, is the quintessential Christmas treat for all the family.