Like an addict, my heart beats a little faster at the promise of another shot of snowflake fairy scenes, a flying giant goose and huge dancing rats - but will this year be the time I kick the habit?
The Nutcracker is back at Birmingham Hippodrome from November 23 until December 13. This show is now a Birmingham Christmas ritual, and it's easy to see why.
Created by Sir Peter Wright, this famous Tchaikovsky ballet is performed by the excellent Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB). On the opening night, many of the main roles were danced by the same principals as in last year's stunning performance. That includes Karla Doorbar as young Clara, whose taken on a magical adventure, Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Cesar Morales as The Prince and Celine Gittens as the Rose Fairy.
That goes part-way towards why it feels and looks so slick and is a well-tuned machine.
Opening with a grand family Christmas gathering, this production quickly wraps you in a blanket of sentimentality with character-led storylines danced out around the huge decorated tree. There's the naughty little brother, the endearing grandparents, the contented parents and a burgeoning romance between Clara and her young man.
The entertainment by visiting magician Drosselmeyer starts to bring a darker element to the plot, but the tempo really speeds up on the stroke of midnight. That's when Clara sneaks downstairs and is transported away from her Victorian home by the magic of Drosselmeyer to another world where huge rats fight toy soldiers, Arabian dancers entertain and the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her prince charming.
There's action galore and spectacular scenery changes as Clara is miniaturised under the Christmas tree and must battle with help from the Nutcracker and toy soldiers against the Rat King, whose dramatic entrance from a fireplace is always a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I must say, Valentin Olovyannikov makes dancing in a heavy rat suit look unbelievably easy.
Clara's journey takes her to meet the Snow Fairy (an exquisite Samara Downs) and her attendants for a truly mesmerising dance sequence that leaves the stage looking like one giant glittering snowglobe.
With such a feast for the eyes in Act One, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the most spectacular scenes had past, but following the interval, Clara appears on a huge flying goose before meeting an array of characters from countries around the world.
Act Two gives the technical dance a chance to shine in the spotlight but in a fun way. There's quirky native dances from Spain, Arabia, China and Russia, accompanied by Tchaikovsky's instantly recognisable music, such as the Dance of the Mirlitons.
The Waltz of the Flowers follows and is one of the highlights of the show with an extraordinary Celine Gittens performing as The Rose Fairy alongside her consorts. It's an exquisite, memorable stand-out scene featuring glorious music and stunning, dreamy choreography.
Dazzling even brighter is the big dance finale between Momoko Hirata's Sugar Plum Fairy and Cesar Morales's Prince. Both of them show exceptional skill and technical ability.
Momoko Hirata and Cesar Morales as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince
Hirata's shimmering sugary pink tutu is the stuff of little girls' dreams and is just one of a multitude of lavish costumes featured in this production, which add to its opulence and dream-like quality.
The Nutcracker will appeal to all ages and is also a perfect introduction to ballet if you want to take a child for the first time. It's got adventure, romance, a sentimental Christmas family gathering and snow-filled scenes that take your breath away.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker is a magical show that always enchants. It's the essence of Christmas and totally unmissable.