It doesn’t get much more festive than a trip to see Nutcracker, but this English National Ballet production takes every child’s imagination to the limit with a snow-covered, fairy-lit dance extravaganza – all in the rather magical surroundings of the London Coliseum. It quickly became one of the most famous ballets in the world, following the debut of Tchaikovsky’s score in 1892, and remains as much a part of the holiday season as dressing the Christmas tree or roasting chestnuts. As you would expect, the auditorium was filled with children seeing it for the first time with their parents and perhaps continuing on the family tradition of an annual visit.
It was also a pleasure to see possible English National Ballet stars of the future (students from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts) dominating Act I – set in a snowy Edwardian London. With the young Clara (Micaela Infante) and Freddie (Matthew Cotton) eagerly awaiting their parents’ lavish Christmas party, to the Nutcracker himself coming alive on the stroke of midnight, it’s hard to imagine there was an audience member in the house who wasn’t either transported to childhood or transfixed by the sheer scale of a production with such numerous and seemingly effortless set changes, designed by the maestro Peter Farmer.
From ice-skating on the frozen river to hot air balloons, we are taken on a journey with the older Clara, played by the ethereal Elena Glurdjidze, as she travels to distant lands and as the gallivant Nutcracker (Fabian Reimair) does battle with the Mouse King (Daniel Kraus) yielding a wooden sword. The corps de ballet were mesmerising as the Snowflakes, led by Nancy Osbaldston and Alison McWhinney, as was Adela Ramirez as the Mirliton in Act II. A gruelling production for the principal playing Clara, Glurdjidze impressed throughout with her beauty and grace, nor did she disappoint when it came to the moment everyone was waiting for; the final pas de deux – triumphantly partnered by Arionel Vargas as Drosselmeyer’s handsome Nephew.
With outstanding choreography by Wayne Eagling, this is the 10th production of Nutcracker in English National Ballet’s 60 year history, first premièring in 2010 and having been featured in the BBC documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy: a year with English National Ballet. That was back when Eagling was Artistic Director – it’s just 19 months since former prima ballerina Tamara Rojo replaced him, and so far this decision seems to be paying off. In an interview with The Independent she expressed the need to: “keep the classics alive, ballet is not like a museum…But I also want to explore new things too.”
For all the (albeit clever) modern versions of Nutcracker in recent years, this production reminds us exactly why they’ll never be anything to beat the traditional rendition of this heart-warming fairytale. As in the case of the Mouse King, good triumphs over evil, and let’s hope this Nutcracker is a taste of things to come. With Gavin Sutherland conducting the English National Ballet orchestra with full Russian flavour, the entire company clearly enjoyed every moment of the rapturous applause they received from a house filled with (very fortunate) school children. I for one was whole-heartedly cheering along too. Get your skates on and make sure you don’t miss this exquisite Christmas treat!
Nutcracker at the London Coliseum until 5 January 2014. Performance time 2 hours 10 minutes including an interval. For more information on English National Ballet productions and tickets visit the website.