London Coliseum, London, UK; December 13, 2014
With a gorgeous overture to enjoy; English National Ballet’s sparkling “Nutcracker” got off to a fine start right from the raising of the beautiful front cloth. The Saturday matinee lived up to its name with hoards of families with small children in attendance, but that made the tale all the more magical. With oohs and aahs at intermittent points throughout the performance, it was difficult not to be transported with the young ones and, like them, indulge in the Christmas spirit.
Wayne Eagling’s “Nutcracker” is a traditional production, set in the 1870s and is picture perfect, although the faux ice skating that opens the performance seems a little drawn out. From children’s party to the adults’ turn at kicking their heels up, the pre-adventure celebrations are mandatory, but they do help reveal the imagination of the young Clara (a delightful role) and the magic of Drosselmeyer. The subsequent battle between the soldiers and the mice was well received by the younger audience but is relatively sedate and ultimately inconclusive. The traditional defeat of the Mouse King by Clara’s slipper is nowhere to be seen as he later joins the older Clara (danced a little stiltedly by Fernanda Oliveira), the Prince (Fernando Bufalá following the Nutcracker’s repair and transformation) and Drosselmeyer (Vitor Luiz) in a magical hot air balloon.
The Snowflakes – despite the usual nosiness of pointe shoes across the snowy landscape – executed the choreography beautifully. The dancers were perfect emulations of snow flurries and the twirling flakes. Alison McWhinney particularly stood out in her precise execution of snowflake uniformity.
Once the hot air balloon has landed, the audience were eagerly anticipating the Kingdom of Sweets in all its glory. First however, is a pas de trois for Clara, the buoyant Prince and trusty Drosselmeyer. This fluid interlude was smooth ad playful, connecting Clara’s Victorian home with the Act II divertissements, and helps to convey her youth as she is held and supported by her male partners. It is odd that we then see Drosselmeyer amongst the divertissements as they are performed, although his partnering of Crystal Costa as the sole Mirliton was a welcome addition to her light and elegant performance.
The Act II divertissements showed the dancers pulling together in a way that was pleasing to see. The Arabian Dance is now devoid of its previous whips and chains, which was a relief. It always seemed an odd inclusion for a production which is dominated by family audiences. The dance for the 2014 production has choreography that emphasises the dancers’ sensuality and elongation, and showcased for their talents rather than anything else. It was a shame to see Junor Souza only here, but what he did perform was charismatic and with and his usual charm. The Chinese Dance was very sharp and precise in the trio’s placements, lead splendidly by Senri Kou.
Following a rather sedate but pleasant Waltz of the Flowers is the grand pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. There were a couple of blips from performers that are generally on top form, and that were rather visible on Oliveira’s face, although perhaps not to an entranced parent or child. Despite this, her Sugar Plum Fairy was mostly a serene combination of power and precision, supported largely by the success of the ensuing coda.
ENB’s “Nutcracker” is truly an indulgent Christmas treat, and it is a joy to watch so many children enthralled by the world of ballet. It is more important to inspire the next generation rather than labour over wobbles.