December 15, 2022
As Christmas approaches, English National Ballet returns to the London Coliseum with the magic of Nutcracker.
This year, Wayne Eagling’s production introduces new technical elements as well as some more neoclassical moves that make the show much more challenging for the dancers and exciting for the viewers. Together with Tchaikovsky’s phenomenal music played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic and a multi-layered scenography, everyone was immersed in the white Christmas of the opening.
A small domestic scene presents the main family. We see the parents, Clara and her naughty brother Freddie, who pulls a prank on them with a toy rat. It is a clever idea that foreshadows later events and explains why, in Clara’s dream, she is attacked by the rodents. The scene also introduces into the story a new character, Louise, Clara’s older sister, played on the opening night by Precious Adams who delighted us with her control and artistry.
Outside, it starts snowing, just like it did in London a few days ago, and we see skaters cross the stage as the guests make their way into the house. Among them is Drosselmeyer, a rather odd family friend, and his nephew who, from the beginning, catches Clara’s eye.
The party scene is a very rich one; we see the children dancing, each adult having their own storyline and there are some comedic snippets from the grandparents. No matter how many times you watch the gathering, you’ll always miss something. Eventually, Drosselmeyer (Fabian Reimair) puts on a puppet show joined by Louise and her admirers. Though the thought behind it is good, the scene does feels a bit out of place and not fully exploited.
The highlight of the party scene was the kids from the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, especially Millicent Honour as young Clara and Ethan Galeotti as Freddie. The focus is on them for quite a long time, and they portrayed very nicely the joyfulness of childhood while showcasing professional performance and outstanding technique for their age. The story from there unfolds as we all know it.
While sleeping, Clara is attacked by the rats, and it’s at this point we are first introduced to Julia Conway who will from then onwards dance the role. Though the battle scene between the rats and the soldiers has some comic and ingenious elements, the dancing itself was rather unconvincing. It is also a shame to lose the iconic scene when Clara kills King Rat with a pointe shoe. There are other confusing moments too including the rats coming in and out for no apparent reason and Francesco Gabriele Frola transforming back and forth between Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer’s nephew.
However, the Snowflakes dancing was nothing short of great: clean in formations and technique. They brought the magic back to the stage perfectly.
Later, the Spanish dance had great energy and captivated the audience from start to end. Sadly, not so much can be said for the Chinese. The Mirliton dance is rather different from most other versions. Maybe unintentionally and again a little confusing, it seemed like it was performed by a ‘dream’ version of Louise created by Clara’s subconscious, as it was executed by Precious Adams. Once again, she showed her great control and elegancy, however. Ken Saruhashi charmed the whole audience with his jumps and splits as the ladies danced around him.
It was unexpected but not disappointing to not see the Arabian dance.
The Waltz of the Flowers brought colour to the stage. Again, the ensemble showed how technically brilliant they could be while performing challenging formations, balances and steps.
Finally, the pas de deux that we had all waited for. Conway and Frola did not disappoint and danced gracefully despite a seeming to struggle a couple of times. Both excelled in their individual variations. Julia Conway, still only a Soloist, fully showed her potential, presenting a Sugar Plum Fairy variation with many new challenging technical steps. She gracefully executed them all with total control.
Overall, a Nutcracker that left excited and feeling the magic of Christmas. It’s a show to bring people together and that will entertain people of all ages. If you have never seen Nutcracker before, give it a go; and even if you have seen this one previously, there are many new elements that will keep you on your toes.
English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is at the London Coliseum to January 7, 2023.