16 December 2015
Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker promises much. Peter Farmer’s designs for the opening scenes set outside the Stahlbaum’s house exude Edwardian nostalgia. The skaters gliding along the frozen River Thames are delightful and straight off a Christmas card. The house is solid, warm and inviting. Once we get inside though, the ballet only excites occasionally despite some excellent moments and an electrifying performance by Shiori Kase as Clara.
Kase has cut glass technique and shows it to the full in the Grand pas de deux. Her turns are sharp and never shift an inch from the spot. What is especially impressive though is the way that time and again she almost makes time stand still. She has the remarkable ability to hold a balance as if she is magically suspended. Divine.
Not quite so heavenly was the understanding between her and her partners, James Forbat as the Nutcracker and Cesar Corrales as the Nephew (Prince), although matters can’t be helped by the constant switching of the two. There were moments in the Grand pas de deux when Corrales made the partnering appear unsympathetic and difficult, and more than once lines were not as harmonious as they could have been. His solo work was as outstanding as Kase’s however. His warp-speed manège was especially memorable.
Returning to the party, Farmer’s indoor setting is just as gorgeous. Unfortunately, the choreography disappoints. Drosselmeyer’s puppet show has possibilities, but is over all too quickly.
I suppose it’s fair enough that Christmas is about children, but while watching them dance is pleasant enough for a while, there are rather a lot of them, and it does rather go on. A special mention, though for Cheryl Heung as child Clara. She was an absolute delight, and managed to communicate a lot of feeling for one so young in her solo dance for her Nutcracker doll. She has the added bonus of actually looking she could be Kase as a child.
Leung also featured in the most lovely moment of the evening. During the curtain calls, and after Kase had been presented with a bouquet, she too received one. It was clearly unexpected. The look of surprise, then delight on her face was priceless.
After the party, the transformation scene and the battle between the mice and the soldiers sort of get merged into one, and lacks any wow factor. Eagling and Toer van Schayk’s concept for the ballet was that it all took place in a nightmare in which Clara and her Nutcracker (Drosselmeyer’s nephew) are attacked by the Mouse King and his followers. My nightmares are always frightening, worrying, but the mice here are about as unthreatening as you can get, with the fight itself weak and unexciting.
Neither the choreography nor the transformation of the set get close to Tchaikovsky’s wonderfully stirring and spine-tingling score. It’s almost what transformation? The far upstage tree grows (and wobbles) and a toy castle is pushed on from a wing, but that’s about your lot.
Things perk up enormously when Eagling gets down to pure dance. The Snowflakes are icy heaven. Their dance is complex and full of interest with plenty of nicely worked patterns. Lauretta Summerscales and Alison McWhinney shone as the leads, as they did later as Lead Flowers. How unfortunate that the mice get to intrude on the scene, detracting from the overall effect, though.
The Act II divertissements are also attractive but once Clara disappears from view they seem disconnected from the narrative. Most exciting was Yonah Acosta in the Russian Dance, who earned the biggest cheers of the evening up to that point for his bravura. The Arabian is alluring and the Spanish warm, but as nice as it is, I’m not sure what is particularly Chinese about the Chinese dance. Chinese dance is full of colour, ribbons, fans, great movement, grace, so why is it that most Western choreographers seem incapable of incorporating any of that into the dance? The Waltz of the Flowers is sublime, and Farmer’s rose pink tutus easily take the prize for the best costumes of the ballet; a dream in themselves.
Nutcracker continues at the Coliseum to 10th January, to be followed by the rip-roaring pirate romp Le Corsaire from 13th-24th January. Visit www.ballet.org.uk for details and casting, and www.eno.org for tickets.