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English National Ballet

'The Nutcracker'

by David Mead

December 13, 2012 -- London Coliseum, London, UK

When you sit through as much dance as I do, it is sometimes easy to forget just how magical it can seem. And so far as the over 200 primary school children from Danesfield Primary School in Eltham, South-East London, I sat among at this performance of Wayne Eagling’s version of “The Nutcracker”, magic was certainly in the air. They sat spellbound for the whole afternoon. From some of the comments in the intermission and afterwards, they are not bad critics either!

This is English National Ballet’s tenth production of the Christmas classic and, it has to be said, by far the best of recent times. Peter Farmer’s designs for the exterior and interior of the Stahlbaum’s house exude Edwardian nostalgia. The scenes set outside the solid looking, warm and inviting house in particular are a delight, and come straight off a Christmas card, especially the opening with its skaters gliding along a frozen River Thames.

The choreography for the party and battle between the mice and soldiers disappoints. The former is pleasant but lacks much interest, while the latter gets exciting eventually but does take rather a long time to warm up. Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks are dreadfully weak, as is the transformation scene in which the growing of the Christmas tree passes almost unnoticed. It says much that the youngsters around me all thought that the best part of Act I was Snowflakes. They were good judges. It is a complex and delightful dance full of interest and nicely worked patterns, led here by Nancy Osbaldeston and Ksenia Ovsyanick.

Eagling’s idea of the ballet turning into a nightmare in which Clara and her Nutcracker (Drosselmeyer’s nephew) are attacked by the Mouse King and his followers is effective. His use of a brightly striped balloon to carry Clara and the nephew to the puppet theatre of Act II works a treat and provides some colourful contrast to the white Land of Snow.

Drosselmeyer’s puppet show from the party comes alive in Act II. Some aspects are a bit odd, not least the constant switching of the hero between a stocky Nutcracker (James Forbat) for who the costume does no favours, and the rather more lithe and attractive nephew (Dmitri Gruzdyev). Still, if it bothered Clara (Fernanda Oliviera), it didn’t show.

There’s more strangeness in the Arabian Dance, which features a whip wielding slave master and Clara’s brother in chains, who she dashes on to rescue. The rest of the divertissements are attractive, although the circling elders add little to the Russian Dance other than getting in the way of seeing the action. The Chinese dance is one of the better around, although why do Western choreographers almost without fail seem so incapable of incorporating some of the beautiful and vibrant elements of true Chinese dance into their choreography when it’s not a problem they have with dance from elsewhere?

The magic returns in a quite sublime Waltz of the Flowers. The ladies pink tutus with red rose decorations are dream in themselves. Standing out among the leads, not for the first time, was the light and elegant Shiori Kase, partnered beautifully by Laurent Liotardo. The spell continued into the grand pas de deux. Gruzdyev’s bounding leaps and fast pirouettes were precise. Oliviera was quick and clean with every step oozing quality. They complimented each other perfectly. Judging from the ever-increasing volume of applause from the children, they agreed.

Despite the occasional doubts, as ever, “Nutcracker” works its magic and draws you in. That glorious music helps of course. It’s a perfect start to the run up to the festive season. For all the dreamy scenario, magic and excellence of the leading dancers, the abiding memory, though, remains those two beautiful ensemble dances with the snowflakes and flowers.

“The Nutcracker” continues at the Coliseum to January 5, to be followed by “The Sleeping Beauty” from January 9-19.

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