Nutcracker

Choreography Wayne Eagling, concept Toer van Schayk and Eagling

English National Ballet

London Coliseum

From 13 December 2017 to 06 January 2018

Review by Vera Liber

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English National Ballet upholds its time-honoured practice of taking its Nutcracker to the people, to the provinces and the capital. Wayne Eagling and Toer van Schayk’s version, the tenth ENB production, continues a tradition started in 1950 when ENB was known as London Festival Ballet.

Now in its seventh year, this touring production is beginning to show its age and one wonders whether a new version would be too much of a tall order even though family audiences still flock to it and it is a nice earner for ENB.

There has been some tinkering round the edges and, of course, the cast is constantly changing, which is always enticing. Happy to see all and any of the casting on offer, I happen to catch the second night, unavoidably missing the newly promoted (to lead principal) Joseph Caley as the Nephew joining ENB from Birmingham Royal Ballet, and principal Shiori Kase as Clara on the first night.

Eagling’s Nutcracker goes for dream psychology, which means that the first realistic half has to set up the second half’s dreamscape in the Land of Snow. Children be alert and watch out for clues in that Edwardian family Christmas Eve party where girls will be girls and boys will be boys. See if you can spot the hot air balloon play toy.

Clara’s brother Freddie scares her with a mouse. The puppet theatre show entertainment tells the tale of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Saint Nicholas gives Clara a Nutcracker doll and Freddie gets a hussar’s hat and sabre, someone else soldier skittles. All set for a battle between mice and soldiers led by Freddie.

And, family friend magician Drosselmeyer brings his dashing Nephew to the party. Though Clara is still at the doll stage, she is on the cusp of puberty and has her first crush, conflating love for her doll with puppy love for the Nephew.

The excitement of the party, the trouble with overexcited Freddie jealously breaking her doll, the shock of new emotions sends her overwhelmed to bed and a dreamland the omnipotent MC Drosselmeyer (Fabian Reimair) seems to be masterminding.

I can’t wait for the damp squib play fighting with the raggedy mice to be over and the panto villain Mouse King (artist Shevelle Dynott) to be seen off. Sadly he clings on into the second act, hitching a ride under the hot air balloon taking Drosselmeyer, Clara and the Nephew away. Boo hiss.

The first narrative act demands characterisation and personalities, whereas the second act is where all the fabulous dancing takes place, building to the glorious Grand Pas de deux, and the audience applause increases exponentially.

Jurgita Dronina and Aaron Robison, debuting in the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nephew do not disappoint. She brings exquisite arms and beautiful slow Russian phrasing to her part, and he has a clean technique, perfect landing on those elegant long legs. A dreamy section with familiar music (ENB Philharmonic under the baton of guest conductor Gerry Cornelius) many will be humming on the way back home.

But before that we have lovely Snowflakes (Precious Adams stands out in a strong ensemble), Clara’s fusion of the injured Nutcracker (artist Fernando Carratalá Coloma) and the Nephew—very Hitchcockian—the death behind the arras of the Mouse King, hurrah, and puppet theatre (remember the puppet theatre) divertissements from all around the world.  

Junior soloist Rina Kanehara is a delightful Mirliton, first artist Francesca Velicu precise in the Chinese dance, and artist Eric Woolhouse makes a fine airborne Russian, whilst Clara’s parents, transformed into elegant Russian boyar and his wife in pearly kokoshnik headdress, glide solicitously amongst the peasant Russian dancers.

The puppet theatre vanishes (or rather hangs suspended in an unfortunate stage malfunction) to reveal a garden of waltzing Flowers. Credit to the dancers who sail on regardless, as I hold my breath.

Lead Flowers junior soloist Senri Kou and soloist Ken Saruhashi, first soloist Adela Ramirez and soloist James Streeter (not the Mouse King tonight—and I do miss him in a part he has made his own, as he really does bring personality to every role he takes) hold our attention by force of dancing and stage presence.

Clara wakes up, she and Freddie make up and say goodbye to Drosselmeyer and his Nephew in the falling snow. Nutcracker ends where it began, in front of a grand house on a frozen Thames with many spirited skaters: for little ones a magical storybook scene.

London is fortunate to have three Nutcrackers in town: here at the Coliseum, at The Royal Opera House, and Birmingham Royal Ballet are bringing their version to the Royal Albert Hall at the end of the month. May all your Christmas dreams be fulfilled...