English National Ballet’s Nutcracker delights

London Coliseum
December 15, 2016

Maggie Foyer

The Thursday afternoon audience was all a Nutcracker matinee crowd should be: the theatre was packed with row upon row of eager (and well-behaved) schoolchildren, while those not in uniform were dressed up in frilly finery to rival the glamour on stage. And, of course, we had Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score and Katja Khaniukova, a Sugar Plum Fairy as sweet and Christmassy as you could wish for.

Khaniukova, from Kiev and a previous finalist in ENB Emerging Dancer, has technique fierce and strong enough for her to sail through the lengthy, demanding role of Clara and to finish on a fine Grand Pas, ably partnered by Fernando Bufalá. If the character of Clara has little more to do than look amazed and delighted, Khaniukova, fulfilled all this and came into her own in the ballerina role. She has the right balance of delicacy and gentleness in her arms and authority in her bearing to make this hackneyed role a pleasure to watch.

Ken Saruhashi has the difficult role of the Nutcracker; tough dance in a heavy mask, and he came through with flying colours, although more clarity in the switching between Prince and Nutcracker would be helpful in following the story.

'Snowflakes' from English National Ballet's NutcrackerPhoto ASH
‘Snowflakes’ from English National Ballet’s Nutcracker
Photo ASH

The Waltz of the Flowers, another old warhorse, was also strangely satisfying. It was danced with enthusiasm not least by James Streeter, who never disappoints, in the company of Adela Ramirez, Crystal Costa and Laurent Liotardo. The Chinese trio were firecrackers while Pedro Lapetra leapt through the Russian dance with bravura energy. Rina Kanehara, as older sister Louise, gets a pretty solo to the Mirliton’s music, but the logic of her disappointed suitors following her into the dream, as happens in the original Dutch version, is lost leaving her out on a limb – albeit a charming one. Fabian Reimair, as Drosselmeyer, is on hand to offer support as he does throughout, an elegant, imposing figure.

While the dancing was strong, the mime and narrative scenes lacked clarity, and were in dire need of fine-tuning. There were undistinguished party guests, mice in need of menace and soldiers very much in need of precision drilling. However, Shevelle Dysott, as the Mouse King, had his moments, an extravagant baddie sufficiently wicked to delight the audience. And the audience were indeed delighted to judge from the roars of approval at the curtain calls.

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker continues at the Coliseum to January 7, 2017; followed by Mary Skeaping’s traditional Giselle, from January 11-22. For details, visit www.ballet.org.uk.

Nutcracker Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including interval.