dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
A Christmas cracker we can all enjoy
Birmingham Royal Ballet's online streaming of The Nutcracker will be a Christmas show to remember, the company is promising.
Gifted to Birmingham in 1990 by the then Director of BRB Sir Peter Wright, The Nutcracker is the ballet company's most popular show and has become an essential date in the festive diary for thousands of dance enthusiasts. So much so, that the company has spent months investigating ways of ensuring the show would go on.
And so, this December, The Nutcracker is to be performed on stage at The Rep, even though there will be no audience, and will be filmed and shared online. Audiences can buy tickets for a live event streamed direct from the theatre on Friday, December 18 or can then watch on-demand between December 19-24.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker
BRB Head of Stage Ben Leveson is part of the team creating a new evolution of The Nutcracker for The Rep stage. Working with creator Sir Peter Wright and designer John Macfarlane, the team has adapted the production usually performed at Birmingham Hippodrome to a smaller scale show.
He says: "We've had to make quite a few changes for our Rep production - partly due the size of the venue but mainly to reduce the number of staff that is required to run the show. Our usual Hippodrome Nutcracker is the only show we do where there are more people backstage (if you add up stage crew, lighting crew, props, flys, costume and wigs) than there are onstage! It takes over 60 people to make the show run which obviously isn't practical at the moment."
And Ben adds: "We've tried to maintain as much of that elegance as we can but in a more representative way so I think it should translate really well. For many people - including us working on it - The Nutcracker is the spirit of Christmas. For people watching at home surrounded by their own Christmas trees and decorations, it should feel like you're part of it all. We're very fortunate to have The Nutcracker as part of our repertoire and it's regarded as one of, if not the best, production in the country. It's fantastic to be able to share that with as many people as possible."
Nutcracker prepares to go onlline
Doug Nicholson, BRB's Head of Scenic Presentation, has been involved in nearly 30 years of BRB Nutcrackers. And he knows how important the production is, not just for the company, but for the city's Christmas arts calendar. "Nutcracker has been a tradition for 30 years and is our most popular production. It has become part of Christmas in Birmingham," he says. "So it has been really important for the company to perform it this Christmas in Birmingham. BRB is a performing company and dancers need to perform. Although audiences won't be there, each cast will be filmed and it is being treated as a live performance. It's important for all the artists involved to be able to dance again on stage."
BRB was one of the first companies to return to the stage after this summer's COVID-19 lockdown with a triple bill including a new work Lazuli Sky which was performed at The Rep in October. "It was quite an emotional moment," recalls Doug. "In my time with the company this has been the only period where we haven't done any performances for that length of time and everyone benefited from being part of a live production again."
Coronavirus restrictions have meant working in a different way while creating this Nutcracker. "We can't have too many people in the same place because of the Covid rules so there are two bubbles of technical crew and the crew is quite small," Doug explains. "And it's the same with the dancers - you have to maintain spacing and with the Hippodrome production some of those scenes are very busy with people so we've had to allow for different spacing."
And he adds: "But with a reduced version, we still have costume, props and elements of the various scenes so you have a feel for each different scene and for the story-telling. It's of this moment. Everyone appreciates the difficulties everyone is facing and particularly the theatre industry with theatres being closed. So what we have been able to achieve has just been phenomenal."