YouTube (recorded at the London Coliseum)
December 24, 2020
English National Ballet has had an unfortunate year. Akram Khan’s much heralded Creature due to premiere on April 1 was postponed. Emerging Dancer took place with a select, socially distanced audience then, just when we thought the company were finally getting back to the public stage, on December 17, the spoiler bad fairy waved her wand.
On stage moved to online and Nutcracker Delights was filmed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt on the following two days. This trimmed down version of around an hour of favourite dance moments includes Snowflakes, Flowers and the Grand Pas but the Christmas party is cut, which is something of a pity as most of our Christmas parties have also been axed. The plummy and very traditional voice of Simon Callow giving a plot summary with the visuals provided by cut-out animations, doesn’t really hack it. However, the dancing is vibrant with the artists obviously enjoying being back on stage.
In the Grand Pas de Deux, Erina Takahashi is a sugar-frosted delight: a core of steely classicism wrapped in an aura of sweetness and light. She is expertly partnered by Joseph Caley, making every lift look effortless and timing each pirouette to perfection. Caley’s solo is a textbook rendition, tours to a faultless fifth and an ace finish while Takahashi marks with her satin pointes the crystal fragility in Tchaikovsky’s music; her fouettés adding a finishing touch of tinsel.
Natascha Mair and Aitor Arrieta as Clara and the Nutcracker Doll bring Christmas warmth and youthful romance to the mix. Despite their talents and the possibility of heightened drama as the battle between Mouse King and soldier continues, the handling of the plot is unimaginative and lacked cohesion, however. Thankfully James Streeter is on hand. A most convincing Drosselmeyer, he saved the day by whisking the couple to the land of sweets in a hot air balloon.
The ensemble numbers show the company in good condition and despite the months without regular performances, the lines and patterning are well coordinated and rehearsed. Precious Adams and Alison McWhinney are quietly authoritative as the leads in the whirling Snowflakes and again in the Waltz of the Flowers where they are joined by impressive lead men, Matthew Astley and Skyler Martin. The divertissement, limited to Russian, Spanish and Chinese, are danced with passion and boundless energy, particularly noticeable in Ken Saruhashi as the lead Russian.
All credit to ENB for their courage and tenacity in offering an online Nutcracker ballet to their loyal audience despite the adverse circumstances. It is the company’s 70th Anniversary year and they face arguably the most challenging time in their history, but this performance proves they’re not giving up any time soon.
Nutcracker Delights from English National Ballet is available on YouTube to January 23, 2021.