United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Nutcracker: English National Ballet Philharmonic, English National Philharmonic / Gavin Sutherland (conductor), The London Coliseum, 11.12.2014 (J.O’D)
Clara as a child: Sereina Mowlem
Freddie as a child: Basil James
Clara: Alina Cojocaru
Nephew: Alejandro Virelles
Nutcracker: Max Westwell
Drosselmeyer: Fabian Reimair
Mouse King: James Streeter
Mother: Jane Haworth
Father: Francisco Bosch
Louise: Ksenia Ovsyanick
Freddie: Barry Drummond
Grandmother: Tamarin Scott
Grandfather: Michael Coleman
Maid : Jennie Harrington
Dancers of English National Ballet and Students from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and Students from English National Ballet School
Lead Snowflakes: Alison McWhinney, Ksenia Ovsyanick
Snowflakes: Dancers of English National Ballet
Spanish: Anjuli Hudson, Crystal Costa, Yonah Costa
Arabian: Shevelle Dynott, Isabelle Brouwers, Tamarin Scott, Jeannie Harrington, Sarah Kundi
Chinese: Senri Kou, Grant Rae, Nathan Young
Mirlitons: Ksenia Ovsyanick, Fabian Reimair
Russian: Fernando Bufalá, Jane Haworth, Francisco Bosch, Maria José Sales, Yoko Callegari, Adriana Lizardi, Precious Adams
Lead Flowers:Laurretta Summerscales, Ken Saruhashi, Alison McWhinney, Vitor Menezes
Waltz of the Flowers: Dancers of English National Ballet and Students from English National Ballet School
Choreography: Wayne Eagling
Based on a concept by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling
Design: Peter Farmer
Lighting: David Richardson
Unlike The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, which preceded it, The Nutcracker (1892) does not begin in a fairytale court. It begins in what dance critic Edwin Denby described as the ‘locus classicus of ambivalent anxiety’: an upper-class home. With its skaters on a frozen River Thames, its hot-air balloon, its Mice and its Snowflakes (of a much lighter, crisper kind of snow than in 2012), English National Ballet’s Nutcracker, choreographed by Wayne Eagling in 2010, has all the magic you could want (and the dancing in the second act brought sighs of pleasure from the press-night audience). But it doesn’t forget the opening anxiety.
In a first, bedroom scene the maid brushes the hair of ‘Clara as a child’ (Sereina Mowlem) before the family’s Christmas party. The brush catches on a tangle. Clara’s brother Freddie (Basil James) then frightens them, and older sister Louise (Ksenia Ovsyanick), with a clockwork mouse. The party does not begin until the mysterious, black-coated magician Dr Drosselmeyer (Fabian Reimair) waves his hand. Among the children’s ‘fractious squabbling’ (Denby), Louise is chased out of the room by her mature and overly excitable dance partners. Old age is present in the form of a Grandfather and Grandmother. Death, as skeletons in a puppet show, takes a bow.
In contrast to all of this is the figure of Drosselmeyer’s spruce Nephew. Making his debut in the role, Alejandro Virelles shows from the start the youthful energy and the grace of line with which he will partner the older Clara (Alina Cojocaru) in the second act pas de deux. They are there in the way he stands, like a smiling harlequin out of Massine, waiting to be introduced to Clara’s parents.
The production has been called confusing. And I suppose it is, even when seen a second time. There are moments when the action seems to be very far from the music. But an overall logic is to be found. After the party, the nutcracker soldier that was given to Clara as a Christmas present, and broken by Freddie, comes to life (thanks to Drosselmeyer) in the form of a masked figure (Max Westwell). Cojocaru dances with him as if acting out a childhood fantasy of love. At the points when Westwell is replaced by the identically dressed, but unmasked, Virelles, Cojocaru dances as Clara might really dance, in a few years’ time, with Drosselmeyer’s nephew (of whom she seems always to be thinking). That is how she dances the pas de deux (for which both she and Virelles wear gilded costumes).
Alina Cojocaru is a dancer who shows you her dance. It is as if music were her medium. This may even keep her at a distance from the audience. For her eyes and her smiles are mostly directed at her partner. Seeing her draped over the shoulders of Max Westwell (a very three-dimensional dancer), I remembered the way she leant back to share an almost private kiss with Vadim Muntagirov in English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire in January: a dancer given up to her partner, to her musicality, and to dance.
At the end of the first act, Clara, Drosselmeyer and a wounded Nutcracker escape from marauding mice (who are led with comic verve by James Streeter as Mouse King) to what in some productions is a Kingdom of Sweets. Here it is more of a picture gallery. Standing in front of a proscenium arch, Drosselmeyer silently introduces the divertissements. Of the ‘nationality’ dances it was the Spanish and the Russian that were most applauded. The Arabian Dance no longer features the adult Freddie as a caged slave.
Dance critic Hanna Weibye recently wrote of her pleasure in watching quite a number of women Soloists and First Soloists of English National Ballet perform. As one of the Mirlitons, Ksenia Ovsyanick (a Lead Snowflake in Act One) dances to and for the audience with épaulement that seems even to depend on its readily given support. Laurretta Summerscales and First Artist Alison McWhinney (the other Lead Snowflake) are Lead Flowers, catching each other’s eye as they share their smiles and their dance.
The coup de théâtre that brings the divertissements to a close is met, from Stalls to Balcony, with an audible catching of breath. Back in the ‘real’ world, squabbling has been replaced by harmony. Clara and Freddie (as children) wave goodbye to Drosselmeyer and his nephew. After another, magical surprise, the ballet reaches its end.
During the rapturous applause, James Streeter pleased everyone by removing the Mouse King head to show the smiling, human countenance underneath. Alina Cojocaru stepped out from her place in the line beside Alejandro Virelles to make a deep curtsey in front of Max Westwell. Then she kissed his hand.