Matthew Bourne brings back his Blitz-set Cinderella, Arthur Pita presents The Little Match Girl with cartoon robots and there are Nutcrackers aplenty.
Nutcrackers. A Christmas season without dancing snowflakes, magical toys and sugar plum fairies might sound like a fascinating possibility, but it’s hard to know how the box office would survive without Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. As always, there will be a variety of small-scale Russian versions touring the UK, but the big British companies are also fielding their own distinctively tweaked productions.
For those who prefer their Nutcrackers traditional, the most opulently romantic choice is the Royal Ballet’s, but Scottish Ballet’s version glories in a design by Lez Brotherston, while a hot-air balloon and conjuring tricks are among the novelties featured by English National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet respectively. The latter are also going for the epic scale, taking their popular proscenium stage production to the Albert Hall, with designs augmented by projected video and digital effects.
Birmingham Royal Ballet is at Birmingham Hippodrome, 2-13 December; then at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 28-31 December. Royal Ballet is at Royal Opera House, London, 5 December to 10 January. Scottish Ballet is at Edinburgh Festival theatre 9-30 December. English National Ballet is at Mayflower theatre, Southampton, 29 November to 2 December; and Coliseum London ( 13 December to 6 January.
Sylvia. Continuing its smart strategy of splicing their annual Nutcracker run with a more adult production, the Royal is presenting an extended season of Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia.
On the surface, this 1952 ballet is a shamelessly silly romp of gods, nymphs and shepherds, but Ashton was inspired by Delibes’s shimmering original 1876 score to create choreography of sophisticated wit and charm.
2-16 December at Royal Opera House, London.
The Little Match Girl. Arthur Pita’s take on the sad little fable by Hans Christian Andersen is one of the most enchanting additions to the Christmas repertory. With a stylistic range that runs the gamut from Victorian frock-coats to cartoon robots, with dialogue that is mostly sung in Italian, it succeeds in creating a brilliantly maverick work that is both entirely child-friendly and profoundly appealing to adults.
The Snowman. After a stage life of 20 years, this adaptation of the Raymond Briggs book remains a happy stalwart of the festive season.
Robert North’s choreography and Ruari Murchison’s designs animate a chirpy cast of prancing reindeers, an ice princess, Jack Frost and Santa Claus, while the aerial dance that accompanies Howard Blake’s classic, Walking in the Air, is reliably heart-stopping.
23 November to 31 December at Peacock theatre, London
The Little Mermaid. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale has become familiar to millions though the Disney cartoon but David Nixon steers clear of sugar-coated sentiment in his new ballet version, recreating the magic of the Mermaid’s underwater terrain while fully acknowledging the pain and poignancy of Andersen’s original vision.
5-17 December at Grand theatre, Leeds.
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella. Bourne’s second world war update of the classic fairytale is this year’s Christmas spectacle at Sadler’s Wells, before embarking on a UK tour. Lez Brotherston’s designs are rich in period detail – RAF uniforms, David Niven moustaches and utility frocks – and Bourne’s storytelling works its beguiling trademark mix of comedy, camp and high romance.
9 December to 27 January at Sadler’s Wells, London UK tour opens on 30 January at Theatre Royal Plymouth.
The Borrowers. Choreographer Jane Hackett and dancers Estela Merlos and Thomasin Gülgeç have collaborated on this enterprising adaption of Mary Norton’s novel about the teeny-tiny people – Pod, Homily et al – who leave their home under the floorboards for a world of freedom, adventure and danger. The hand-painted animations of Betsy Dadd set the scene, and the specially commissioned score is by Tobias Saunders.
13-17 December at Dance East, Ipswich.
What the Moon Saw. Tamsin Fitzgerald combines dance and aerial circus in her new family-friendly version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, telling the story of a young boy’s encounters with dragons and chimney sweeps and with a friendly Moon teaching him courage. Director and dramaturg Elle While, best known for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, collaborates with Fitzgerald, and composer Angus Macrae has composed the score.
20-22 December at the Place, London.