Concept Wayne Eagling & Toer van Schayk, choreography Eagling, music Tchaikovsky
English National Ballet
London Coliseum

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James Streeter as Drosselmeyer and ENB artists Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Aitor Arrieta as Nephew Credit: Laurent Liotardo
James Streeter as Drosselmeyer and Tring Park students Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Aitor Arrieta as Nutcracker Credit: ASH
ENB artists Credit: Laurent Liotardo
ENB artists Credit: Laurent Liotardo
ENB artists Credit: Laurent Liotardo
Fernanda Oliveira Credit: ASH
Aitor Arrieta as Sugar Plum Prince Credit: Laurent Liotardo

Last year, I thought this now thirteen-year-old production of Nutcracker needed to be put out to pasture, though I see tonight, the second night of the run, that there have been some tiny tweaks, namely in the transformation of the Nutcracker into the Nephew. No confusing darting back and forth from behind the red curtain. Much better.

I bring a fresh face with me, a seven-year-old, who loves dressing up and is having all sorts of dance lessons. And what does she like best… the ice-skating and the gliding Russian boyar and his kokoshka-wearing wife, both as if on castors. Does the Mouse King scare her? Just a little bit.

The audience, of all ages, is out to have a good time and do. There is fizz to drink, popcorn on sale and jelly sweets, as well as chocolate, nuts and ice cream. An indulgent evening, the theatre is buzzing. Festivities have begun in good spirit.

It is a discerning audience. The final regal pas de deux, a gala piece taken at a gentle pace to the sweet sound of the celesta, is cheered and applauded long and loud. Both lead principals Aitor Arrieta and Fernanda Oliveira are perfection in their variations, he especially pulling all the stops out. They perk me up.

The dance ends and Christmas morning begins on a happy note—to send us out into a better world... in our dreams… Clara wakes up from dreaming of being a princess with Drosselmeyer’s nephew as her prince. A Christmas Eve dream or wishful thinking... and her brother Freddie is no longer trying to sneak a mouse into her bedroom. They are friends as they look out of the window on to a snowy morn.

The dreamy second half in the lands of snow, flowers and the puppet theatre with its national dances is set up by the events of the first half. The rich Edwardian Christmas Eve party, snow and ice-skaters outside, snowball fights, excited children, presents, puppet theatre story of the Mouse King and the Nutcracker all become ‘reality’ in her over-stimulated imagination.

I have to explain who Saint Nicholas is… why he is giving out presents to good girls and boys. And why boys get military toys and girls get dolls. And the mice and soldier battle is very corny. Or should I say cheesy… But it’s the spectacle that matters and the music.

The season of good will, but companies have to tread carefully. The Arabian dance is now four female harem dancers (no slavers). The acrobatic Chinese (Ashley Coupal, Miguel Angel Maidana and Van Le Ngoc) have lost their dated pigtails and long moustaches. The Russian dance is now called the Cossack, but the rich couple gliding around the traditional folk dancers is very Russian. Political correctness is a minefield.

As always, the dancers are superlative. I see huge commitment, style and rapport with the audience. James Streeter is a warm Drosselmeyer, who partners solo Mirliton Julia Conway (splendid also as older sister Louise in the first act) with tender care. Michael Coleman is a cheeky Grandfather, who still has lots of life in him. Three generations on stage and in the Coliseum auditorium…

It must be the highlight of the year for the pupils of Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, selected to perform, not just dance but sing, or rather hum along beautifully with the English National Ballet Philharmonic (under baton of guest conductor Daniel Parkinson) from a side box.

“Over 100 dancers and musicians bring Nutcracker to life”. It’s ENB’s perennial money-spinner, touring the UK, always welcome, but I long for new inspiration.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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