The Nutcracker @ The London Coliseum

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Could there be a more perfect Christmas experience than scurrying through bustling Covent Garden before settling into the cosy warmth of the London Coliseum to watch The Nutcracker? Tchaikovsky’s sublime music captures the season perfectly and, for me at least, this production from English National Ballet matches the music wonderfully.

ENB debuted this production of the Nutcracker, designed by Peter Farmer, back in 2010 and it’s a more traditional take on the tale than their previous, Gerald Scarfe influenced one (which was our first introduction to ballet some years ago). Wayne Eagling takes the bold decision to use children as much as possible in the earlier party scenes, with Sereina Mowlam a particularly graceful Clara and Basil James a cheeky Freddie. The set, an expansive room in a Victorian mansion house, perfectly frames the bustling action. A note here – with every ENB show I see the performers seem more and more interested in going beyond the dances themselves and injecting real levels of character to their roles. I can’t say whether this is a change within ENB or just me noticing more, but either way it’s delightful!

We’re treated to junior soloist Daniel Kraus making his debut as Dr Drosselmeyer and the young dancer seems to have a natural charisma and feel for his part that would suggest we will grow into an excellent character artist. Michael Coleman shows his skill as a comedic performer as a particularly curmudgeonly grandfather (who has more than a hint of Coleman’s Coppelius about him). These early scenes are a delight, from the people skating on the frozen river outside the window to the delightful dance between Clara’s sister Louise (an engaging Crystal Costa) and her three suitors.

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As Clara drifts off to sleep the house is invaded by mice, the nutcracker Clara has been given by Drosselmeyer  comes to life and leads a charge of toy soldiers against them. Fabian Reimair is a suitably militaristic Nutcracker, standing straight and tall. Fernanda Oliviera makes a beguiling Clara, graceful and sweet, she plays so naturally alongside Reimair (her husband) and when the Nutcracker is injured their dance becomes more clunky, playing on the wound to his arm. Before Clara’s eyes he transforms, appearing as Drosselmeyer’s charming nephew. Vitor Luiz, another performer debuting in their role this afternoon, has an easy charm and a winning smile. The mouse king is horrifying in this production and the young girl in the row in front of us (dressed adorably in a tutu and ballet shoes) crawls into her fathers lap when he appears). His mask, more satanic goat skull than mouse, combine with Anton Lukovkin’s lunging movement to make him a true villain in a role much expanded by Eagling’s vision (he even hitches a ride into the second act by hanging from ropes beneath Drosselmeyer’s balloon).

A simple but effective change to the set (the grandfather clock grows taller, the Christmas tree expands) shows us that despite being played by an adult, Clara is still to be perceived as a child here and Oliviera is wide-eyed with wonder throughout, performing the role admirably.

The second act sees the children’s puppet show spring to life as Drosselmeyer conjures entertainment for Clara. A seductive Spanish dance is followed by an exotic Arabian piece. Junor Souza dominates here, showing a natural showmanship that is all the more impressive for the fact he is not supposed to be performing this dance today but has stepped in because of an injury to James Streeter that is announced in the interval.

An angular Chinese dance, poking light fun at old martial arts movies is followed by Crystal Costa’s Mirliton dance, performed with delicate grace alongside Kraus. The traditional Russian motif follows.

Perhaps the best known moment of The Nutcracker is the Dance of the Flowers (it even made the front page of The Times this week). This is a beautiful full company number with some exquisite lead dancing by the light-footed Alison McWhinney and Laurretta Summerscales.

Oliviera and Luiz dance a stunning pas de deux, the climax of the ballet, this Brazilian pair work perfectly together, both enhancing the work of the other and moving as a single entity. Then, before we know it, we’re back at the house, the snow is still falling and Clara wakes to realise the party is ending.

As the cast take their bows it’s clear from their beaming grins that they adore this piece as much as the audience do and from what we can see the (newly rechristened) English National Ballet Philharmonic are relishing each note too. If you need an injection of Christmas spirit grab a ticket and revel in the joys of the season here!

Matt

Matt has been writing on all manner of subjects for over 15 years. He has written for a number of music magazines, made appearances on BBC Introducing and regularly contributed to local newspapers. These days he mostly writes about rugby and is passionate about providing insight into women's rugby! He also writes on theatre and regularly reviews shows across the south.

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