ENB’s Nutcracker is an emotional journey from which the audience returns both grateful and charmed

United KingdomUnited Kingdom English National Ballet’s Nutcracker: Dancers of English National Ballet, Students from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, English National Ballet Philharmonic / Graham Sutherland (conductor). London Coliseum, 15.12.2022. (JO’D)

Artists of English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo

Music – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography – Wayne Eagling
Set and Costume designs – Peter Farmer
Lighting – David Richardson

Cast included:
Clara – Julia Conway
Nephew – Francesco Gabriele Frola
Nutcracker – Fernando Carratalá Coloma
Drosselmeyer – Fabian Reimair
Mouse King – James Streeter

The choreography may have its moments of awkwardness. The substitution of Nephew for Nutcracker, and vice versa, may confuse anyone watching for the first time. But from the applause during the curtain calls on this year’s very cold opening night, there could be no doubt that English National Ballet’s Nutcracker (2010) had once again taken its audience on a magical, emotional journey from which it returned both grateful and charmed.

The applause reached a crescendo for the musicians of English National Ballet Philharmonic and their conductor, Graham Sutherland. Tchaikovsky’s music for the ballet, with its similarities to the Symphony No 6 in B Minor and to The Queen of Spades (where children also play at soldiers), is an emotional journey in itself. As the audience clapped the smiling dancers, the strains of the surprisingly solemn accompaniment to the Grand Pas de deux still echoed round the auditorium.

This year, perhaps because the company has a new Artistic Director Designate in Aaron S. Watson, it is a Nutcracker with some changes made. The Arabian Dance of the second act, already much altered from its risqué but narratively relevant original form, has been removed altogether to allow time for consideration of its ‘sensitivities’. The grandmother at the Act I party is given a pair of dark glasses to suggest that her ‘feeble wanderings’ are to be explained by sight loss rather than dementia. Yet she is still, oddly, subject to what amounts to domestic violence by the grandfather.

On the familiar note there is James Streeter as Mouse King. No other dancer in the role conveys that particular combination of menace and humour. Precious Adams, a familiar dancer recently promoted to First Soloist, makes something quite new of the party scene by bringing her strength and experience to the role of Louise, Clara’s sister. She does the same for the dance of the Mirlitons in Act II.

Julia Conway (Clara) and Francesco Gabriele Frola (Nephew) © Laurent Liotardo

Clara herself is danced by Julia Conway, whose soft arms and musicality come into their own during the Grand Pas. Francesco Gabriele Frola, as Nephew, partners her with attentiveness and an attractive warmth. In the Spanish Dance, the first to receive vocal praise from the audience, Daniel McCormick’s demeanour impresses, as always, and the way that Ivana Bueno holds her head and shoulders is itself an explanation of why she won the ENB Emerging Dancer Award in 2020.

From the social dances of the ‘fractious’ children’s party (overseen by Fabian Reimair’s Drosselmeyer), to the equivocal Snowflakes in the Land of Snow, to The Puppet Theatre where dance is somehow set free, Nutcracker and its music give so much. Starting and ending the ballet as a child, Clara learns in between about love and, or so the music seems to tell us, death. Why else is that for the Grand Pas quite so searing, quite so solemn? As dancers line up for their curtain calls in front of designer Peter Farmer’s Jungian archetype house backdrop, the applause may be for what the audience has also learnt from the music about life and love and death.

John O’Dwyer

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