ENB’s Nutcracker Returns and Magic is Pretty Much Assured

United KingdomUnited Kingdom English National Ballet’s Nutcracker: Dancers of English National Ballet, Students from Tring Park School and the English Ballet School, English National Ballet Philharmonic / Gavin Sutherland (conductor), London Coliseum, 13.12.2018. (JO’D)

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker (c) Laurent Liotardo


Choreography – Wayne Eagling
Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Design – Peter Farmer
Lighting – David Richardson

Cast included:

Clara – Rina Kanehara
Nephew – Jeffrey Cirio
Nutcracker – Fernando Carratalá Coloma
Drosselmeyer – Fabian Reimair
Mouse King – James Streeter

Everything was in place for English National Ballet’s Nutcracker to work the particular magic it has worked since this production premiered in 2010: the subdued colours of the drop curtain; the opening notes of the score; the hairbrush catching in Clara’s hair as the maid brushes it before the party, an indication (expressed in Tchaikovsky’s music almost from the start) that life will have its darker, painful, Mouse King side. Yet from the party in Act I to the divertissements in Act II, the dancers on this opening night suffered moments of unsteadiness and uncertainty that drew attention to flaws in the choreography and temporarily marred the magical effect.

Not all the dancers. Fernando Carratalá Coloma made a rather fine Nutcracker. Tall, long-limbed, flexible at the waist, he showed, in his jeté, what dance critic and poet Edwin Denby describes as a ‘shining tautness across the groin’. His stage presence has developed since he danced the Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty last June. While some of what the Flowers did was blurred (the chain of individual arabesques en l’air by the men, for example), Tiffany Hedman brought much charm to the role of Lead Flower in her arms and shoulders and in the way she held her head. As Clara’s sister, Louise, first of all, then as a Mirliton, Alison McWhinney demonstrated again the grace that characterises the movements of her arms, and hands, and ‘ballet neck’. In her white costume with its Art Nouveau-ish, insect-wing sleeves, the Mirliton brings to mind all the women dancers who have performed on the stage of the London Coliseum since the beginning of the twentieth century. Above all, when she dances alone.

Daniel McCormick captured the stance of the toreador for the Spanish dance. Though not without his moment of unsteadiness, gold-turbaned Daniel Kraus is the dancer who makes most sense of what the man in the Arabian dance has to do since it was re-choreographed in 2013. The dancers of the Russian dance were the most applauded; but half the point of the dance, this year, was lost: Clara’s mother (Jane Haworth) returned for it, in kokoshnik, accompanied by a dancer who is not Clara’s father.

Perhaps because it was the opening night, Rina Kanehara’s Clara and Jeffrey Cirio’s Nephew seemed wan. Neither looked really comfortable until it came to the variations that follow the grand pas de deux. But, after all, no matter. There was Fabian Reimair as Drosselmeyer. There was James Streeter as Mouse King. There were the Snowflakes, clumping a little at first but triumphant at their exit. There was the music from Gavin Sutherland and the English Ballet Philharmonic, expressive of childlike wonder but also acknowledging death. And with its house front, its frozen canal, its Act II coup de théâtre that never stops being a coup de théâtre however many times you see it, the magic of ENB’s Nutcracker is pretty much assured.

John O’Dwyer

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