English National Ballet – The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker, Op.71 – Ballet in two acts to choreography by Wayne Eagling after Lev Ivanov, based on an original scenario by Marius Petipa after E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig

Clara – Daria Klimentová
Clara as a child – Lowri Shone
Nutcracker – Junor Souza
Drosselmeyer – Fabian Reimair
His Nephew – Vadim Muntagirov
Freddie as a child – Rowan Shone
Freddie – Barry Drummond
Mother – Jane Howarth
Father – Francisco Bosch
Grandmother – Jenna Lee
Grandfather – Simon Rice
Mouse King – James Streeter
Lead Snowflakes – Senri Kou, Shiori Kose
Spanish Dance – Venus Villa, Crystal Costa, Anton Lukovkin
Arabian Dance – Arionel Vargas and Dancers of English National Ballet
Chinese Dance – Shiori Kose, Shevelle Dynot, Nathan Young
Russian Dance – Yonah Acosta and Dancers of English National Ballet
Dance of the Mirlitons – Ksenia Ovsyanick, Fabian Reimair
Lead Flowers – Anaïs Chalendard, Esteban Berlanga, Adela Ramirez, James Forbat

Orchestra of English National Ballet
Gavin Sutherland

Wayne Eagling – Production
Peter Farmer – Designs
David Richardson – Lighting

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 8 December, 2011
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Esteban Berlanga and Erina Takahashi (The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, December 2010). Photograph: Richard HaughtonA second The Nutcracker in two days (yesterday’s was The Royal Ballet’s) and English National Ballet’s approach, while traditional in look, differs radically from Peter Wright’s approach. The storyline is slimmed down greatly, with none of the Drosselmeyer’s-nephew-imprisoned-as-the Nutcracker idea. In its place, the young Clara (the role is split between a young girl, the fresh Lowri Shone and the ballerina) develops an adolescent crush on Drosselmeyer’s nephew who accompanies him to the party at which he is the children’s entertainer. The Mouse Battle and the Journey to where she witnesses all the character dances are all in her post-party slumbers, as is her own incarnation as a ballerina who dances with the handsome nephew. Simple enough, but, alas, weighed down by so many narrative accretions: the Mouse King continuing to make an appearance right through the ballet, the identity of the Nephew and the Nutcracker constantly melding, so much so that at one point the Nutcracker (an accomplished and athletic Junor Souza) disappears from the only for Vadim Muntagirov to appear in his costume. It will all be too much to figure out for many a parent let alone her tiny tinselled tot.

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, December 2010. Photograph: Richard HaughtonEagling goes for a great deal of dancing, over-egging this particular choreographic pudding to the point at which the charms of the party and the opportunities for characterisation are diminished – how delightful, though, to see Simon Rice, once a much admired soloist at Covent Garden, making a guest appearance as an increasingly sozzled and bad-tempered grandfather. Shining out with bags of personality to spare is the young Rowan Shone (Lowri’s real-life brother) playing Clara’s brother Freddie – he commanded the vast Coliseum stage with extraordinary confidence, portrayed his character with great skill and played the naughty sibling to perfection – a name to watch once he grows up. Peter Farmer’s costumes are admirable, the girls displaying his preference for pastel colouring, and the mouse skull masks a tour de force, firmly moving these rodents out of Beatrix Potter territory. There are felicitous visual touches, not least the skating party outside the house where the party is to take place – a very striking image indeed as the dancers slip and slide on rollerblades artfully concealed as Victorian skating boots.

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, December 2010. Photograph: Annabel MoellerThe narrative does sag here and there, Eagling’s concept not always holding water, as he transports Clara from house to land of fantasy. The logic of the Act Two dances is unclear, but Farmer’s backdrops for each are ravishing, even if the lighting here, as elsewhere, does not always display the greatest coherence. Eagling has striven to get away from the obvious for these divertissements so that the Chinese Dance becomes a trio inspired by the House of Flying Daggers; the Arabian is a bizarre concoction concerning an Arabian slave-driver ravishing his harem and manhandling the ‘older’ Freddie, who wears the boy’s glasses in case we don’t follow – we do not. It is understandable that this is all Clara’s dream, hence his appearance, but for a ballet audience watching the The Nutcracker, it makes no sense. Yonah Acosta (Carlos’s nephew) was likeable in the Russian Dance, showing off his Cuban tricks in dizzying leaps and turns and having a whale of a time in the process. The Dance of the Mirlitons become a duet between Drosselmeyer (a bird-like Reimair) and Ovsyanick’s butterfly – a very long and demanding pas de deux.

Indeed, Eagling overdoes the pas de deux and trois in this act, as Clara and the Nutcracker dance extensively with Drosselmeyer and then deal with a return of the Mouse King to the music usually reserved for the Nutcracker’s retelling of his adventures to the Sugar Plum Fairy. Here, said fairy is Clara and she dances the Grand pas de deux with Drosselmeyer’s nephew. It should be the high point of the evening, and, as danced by Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov, it most certainly was. It is over-complicated in Eagling’s version – he has taken the Ivanov choreography and embellished upon it, adding flourishes and tricky lifts and turns, all extremely impressive, but at times more show than art, the classicism of the original transformed into something over-decorated and impure. That said, Muntagirov impressed greatly – he is maturing rapidly as a dancer, his shape filling out, no longer a long-limbed boy and now far more the silhouette of a danseur noble. He has superb elevation and is fearless in his attack on the most demanding of steps. Klimentová, too, is superb – she is such an honest dancer, her line true, the shaping of her movements imbued with a clarity and an unfussiness which make even this over-decorated choreography sing. In this they were both immensely helped by Gavin Sutherland’s impassioned conducting of this wonderful score – he adopts faster tempi than at Covent Garden, and the ballet benefits hugely from that. The orchestra responded to his direction with sensitivity and enthusiasm. A twenty-strong waltz of the Flowers put the dancers through their paces in a well-constructed neo-classical showpiece, demonstrating that the company’s strengths extend down to its lower ranks.

This is not a vintage Nutcracker, but it remains an improvement on the company’s previous production. There is much to enjoy despite the reservations expressed, although with so many changes of cast, care will need to be exercised in deciding which performance to catch.

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