December 11, 2019
When it feels as if the world is crashing around one’s ears and that everyone is crazy, there couldn’t be a better antidote to despair and cynicism than Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker. After a turbulent start, this production has really settled in and benefited by a little trimming around the edges. From the gorgeous front cloth to the last tiny bit of glitter wafting down from the flies, it is total theatrical and musical joy.
The ballet’s unevenness has been smoothed out by dramaturgy that makes every musical note count, and with each gesture and dance imbued with an inner and outer logic. Each character is beautifully and subtly delineated, from the opening skaters to the party guests so that the solid reality of the first act contrasts with the dream of the second.
Even the children, so often tedious, make dramatic sense. Talking of which, the Mouse King is threaded through the whole production, only being vanquished at the last by a little magic from Drosselmeyer, the character imbued with real power by the phenomenally versatile James Streeter; a pleasant change from the sinister, creepy uncles of the past.
The link of course is the magical, marvellous snow and this is where the only two jarring moments of the evening occurred. Why are so many dancers reluctant to bang out their pointe shoes. This snow was shod in clogs, the illusion of flurrying snowflakes ruined by clunking feet; and while it is to be applauded that the chorus is sung live, the young Tring Park students struggled to blend with entries and ends of phrases too ragged, and pitch variable.
Act II banished all that to distant memory, however, flying by all too quickly. There are some tricky moments in the Spanish Dance but Adela Ramirez, Amber Hunt and Daniel McCormick acquitted themselves superbly. The Arabian was simply the loveliest that I have ever seen. There was a calm assurance to the dancing as if we were eavesdropping on a private moment in the harem. I almost expected the quartet to segue into Scheherazade. The Chinese acrobats are super, with no hint of the stereotypical choreography that borders on offensive. The Russian is as Russian as it gets, red boots, kokoshniks and all.
Choosing to set Mirlitons as a solo, with the little partnering from Drosselmeyer, is somewhat odd but nevertheless lovely to look at. It was danced to perfection by Alison McWhinney. Topping and tailing the Waltz of the Flowers with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort (aka Clara and the Nutcracker) makes utter sense too. After all, it is all there in the score.
This was a moving pas de deux that made the eyes prick with emotion. Fluid partnering and a sense of grandeur brought the evening to a glorious close. Erina Takahashi is now very much a senior lead dancer in the company and, although the partnership could be burnished with a little more chemistry, Francesco Gabriele Frola was a notable cavalier. Skyler Martin earlier excelled as the Nutcracker. It’s astonishing to think that he spent ten years playing ice hockey competitively.
As ever, the ENB Philharmonic, this evening under the capable baton of Gerry Cornelius, excelled themselves. There were some very subtle tempi which enabled the dancers to perform at their best and the pianissimo at the beginning of the Arabian made the hairs stand up on the nape of the neck. mention too should be made of plenty of crisp playing in the woodwind.
ENB’s is a super Nutcracker; one that I hope remains in the repertoire for a long time yet.
English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is at the London Coliseum to January 5. Visit londoncoliseum.org for details and tickets.