This Christmas, ROH2, the contemporary arm of the Royal Opera House, offers a new dance piece hoping to join The Nutcracker and The Snowman as a festive family favourite.
An original piece it might be, but the children’s tale of toys leaping to life at night owes more than a little to perennial yuletide ballet The Nutcracker, not to mention Toy Story, Hansel And Gretel and even The Wizard Of Oz.
When siblings Megan and Jason climb into their bunk beds one evening – their delightfully and recognisably bedraggled mother relieved, no doubt, to see them tucked up and out of trouble for the night – the pink fairy springs to life and works her pulse-bringing magic on her fellow toys. So far, so happy playtime in the nursery, but when Megan chooses to draw a witch, in the hope she will become a new friend, everything gets a little more Grimm.
Aletta Collins, an ROH2 Associate, imbues each toy box inhabitant with their own distinct style, from Thomasin Gülgeç’s Chimpy with his taste for parkour and furniture-climbing acrobatic tendencies, to Owen Ridley-DeMonick’s more rigid, stately Mighty Robot and Greig Cooke’s gangly, slightly unwieldy, Sir Green Knight.
There are a few moments of humour – from the simplicity of seeing a wind-up frogman flipping and flapping his way across the stage to the dad-friendly dig at temperamental footballer Carlos Tevez – but Magical Night is never too knowing or troubled by injecting laughter; it sets out to entertain a young audience and maintain its fairytale innocence throughout, a goal it happily achieves.
As I watched a waltzing witch whisked through Rachael Canning’s surprise-hiding set, part of me wished the recently rediscovered Kurt Weill score had more of the magic of The Nutcracker and a little more seasonal charm. But maybe that is an unfair comparison to make, what with all the associations that come naturally and subconsciously when Tchaikovsky’s music plays.
At just 60 minutes long, ROH2’s latest dance piece might not be a magical night, but it is certainly an enchanting hour.