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 as a child – Annabella Sanders
Freddie as a child – James Lovell
Clara – Daria Klimentová
Nephew – Vadim Muntagirov
Nutcracker – James Forbat
Drosselmeyer – Fabian Reimair
Mouse King – James Streeter
Mother – Jane Howarth
Father – Zhanat Atymtayev
Louise – Ksenia Ovsyanick
Freddie – Juan Rodríguez
Grandmother – Tamarin Stott
Grandfather – Michael Coleman
Maid – Jennie Harrington
Lead Snowflakes – Lauretta Summerscles, Shiori Kase
Spanish – Nancy Osbaldeston, Adela Ramírez, Daniel Kraus
Arabian – Arionel Vargas, Juan Rodríguez, Nicola Henshall, Tamarin Stott, Seo-Yeon Yu, Amber Hunt
Chinese – Shiori Kase, Nathan Young, Grant Rae
Mirlitons – Ksenia Ovsyanick, Fabian Reimair
Russian – José Becerra, Jane Haworth, Steven Wilson, Monica Tapiador, Jennie Harrington, Kesi Olley-Dorey, Mercedes Schindler
Lead Flowers – Lauretta Summerscales, Esteban Berlanga, Alison McWhinney, Zhanat Atymtayev
Guests / Skaters / Rats / Hussars / Soldiers / Mice and Children including Charlotte – Dancers of English National Ballet Students from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and English National Ballet School
Waltz of the Flowers – Dancers of English National Ballet

Orchestra of English National Ballet
Benjamin Pope

Wayne Eagling – Production
Toer van Schayk – Concept
Peter Farmer – Designs
David Richardson – Lighting

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 12 December, 2012
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Snowflakes, The Nutcracker, English National Ballet. Photograph: Annabel Moeller 2010Tamara Rojo’s English National Ballet (she’s its new Director) comes across much like ENB of old as it launches itself into another tranche of performances of Wayne Eagling’s The Nutcracker at The Coliseum. Differences will make themselves clear as the season progresses and the company is seen in more revealing work, not in least Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty coming up after the festivities. But for now it is The Nutcracker with more visual effect than dance, although one is already able to discern a new-found coherence to the corps de ballet work in the Snowflakes pas d’action and the Act II Waltz of the Flowers.

Peter Farmer’s designs still please, not least in the opening scene in the street outside (presumably) the Stahlbaums’ house, which sees a cleverly constructed skating scene. The transformation (to that glorious musical outpouring by Tchaikovsky) is disappointing, and includes the least impressive growing Christmas tree in many a Nutcracker, although the backcloths for the Act Two diverstissements are well conceived. What concerns even more this year than last is the incoherence of the narrative. Where Peter Wright at Covent Garden and in Birmingham gives a clearly thought-out story-line, Eagling opts for a more confusing scenario which involves Clara and her brother Freddie as children and then as adults, the Nutcracker (danced by James Forbat) constantly changing places with Vadim Muntagirov’s Drosselmeyer’s nephew, who dons a Nutcracker costume for the purpose, and a too intrusive Mouse King (a hyperactive James Streeter) who seems to win the battle with the toy soldiers and makes it into Act Two. It is all Clara’s dream, so anything can happen, and it must all mean something according to the good Dr Freud, but it makes for a confused and confusing narrative – why on earth do the Act Two dances happen, and why Spanish, Chinese and Russian ones where nothing to ‘evoke’ them has been seen before? Ho, ho!

Vadim Muntagirov as The Prince (The Nutcracker, English National Ballet). Photograph: Patrick Baldwin 2011The clutter of the Act One party, with a baffling children’s entertainment, lacks focus, although Michael Coleman’s spiteful old Grandfather, even though Tamarin Stott’s Grandmother is so doddery that no-one had better waste their money on buying her a Christmas present. The Act Two divertissements are good, although they reveal Eagling’s tendency to over-egg the choreographic Christmas pudding at times. There is a cracking Spanish dance, and a still amusing House of Flying Daggers Chinese dance. The Arabian Dance remains a troubling fantasy with Arionel Vargas alternating between cracking his whip at four suitably adoring odalisques and re-enacting the Gaoler’s scene from MacMillan’s Manon with Clara’s now adult-danced brother (a suitably traumatised Juan Rodríguez). Ksenia Ovsyanick is supposed to be a butterfly to the Mirlitons’ music, her steps sometimes unnecessarily complicated. The Waltz of the Flowers is likable, and showed an impressively drilled corps de ballet; Laurretta Summerscales and Alison McWhinney acquitted themselves impressively of their Lead Flowers choreography. What troubles with Eagling’s choreography, however, is how so very often he ignores what is happening with the music (the Orchestra here impassioned and atmospheric under Benjamin Pope), how he rides rough-shod over the musical narrative, nowhere more telling than in the interminable and unexplained prancing of Clara, the Nutcracker (Forbat mostly, but Muntagirov emerging briefly to give us some impressive entrechats) and Drosselmeyer to the music of the arrival in the Kingdom of the Sweets and the narration to the Sugar Plum Fairy of their back-story.

At the centre of it all the pairing of Daira Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov as the ‘adult’ Clara and Drosselmeyer’s Nephew – here ‘becoming’ the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. Eagling goes for a high-octane version of this pas de deux, with countless lifts, spins and assorted choreographic curlicues to embellish what is, in its original Lev Ivanov version, a near-perfect pas de deux already. Both dance superbly: she true, clear, honest in her dance, every move crafted with care and artistry, no technical challenge fudged; he noble, almost pantherine in movement quality, his leaps high and clear, his turns pin-point precise. This pairing works tremendously well, the final moments of the pas de deux when they dance in unison revealing a superb synergy not only of physiques, but also of musicality and phrasing. Muntagirov was promoted to Lead Principal on stage at the end of the performance by director Rojo. He opens the Coliseum run of The Sleeping Beauty partnering Miss Rojo herself on January 9th.

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