The Nutcracker with Klimentová and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, December 2012

The clever concept behind English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is not that the toy comes to life, but that in Clara’s mind he takes on the form of Drosselmeyer’s handsome nephew, seen in a blue uniform at the party in Act I. After the death of the Mouse King, which occurs in Act II of this production, the nephew becomes the Nutcracker, and towards the end, in new costumes, he and Clara dance the Sugar Plum fairy pas-de-deux.

Mouse King, ENB image Patrick Baldwin

Mouse King, ENB image Patrick Baldwin

The way this concept is really brought to life by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling is to have two Nutcrackers. The one with a painted mask on his face is the toy come to life, the one without a mask is Clara’s vision of him as the Nephew. They interchange for the first time after the snow scene in Act I, and the masked Nutcracker only finally disappears in early Act II after killing the Mouse King, who survived Act I and hung on to the balloon taking Clara, Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker to the land of Sweets.

ENB image Annabel Moeller

ENB image Annabel Moeller

Having the final battle in Act II is unusual but Wayne Eagling’s production is otherwise entirely standard, starting and ending with Clara’s bedroom and skaters on the ice outside the house. The party scene in Act I is a spontaneous medley of dancing, action, and conjuring tricks from Fabian Reimair as a fine Drosselmeyer. He twice alters the hands of the clock, the second occasion being when the young Clara, beautifully played by Annabella Sanders, gets out of bed after the party to go downstairs. Drosselmeyer turns the time to midnight, and the magic starts.

Clara and Nutcracker, image Patrick Baldwin

Clara and Nutcracker, image Patrick Baldwin

Fine performances by James Forbat and James Streeter as Nutcracker and Mouse King, and the grown-up Clara was Daria Klimentová with Vadim Muntagirov as the Nephew. They were superb together, a real treat to watch.

Nephew as Nutcracker Prince, image Baldwin

Nephew as Nutcracker Prince, image Baldwin

In the Arabian dance Clara joins in to release the prisoner, none other than her own grown-up brother Freddie, who also appeared earlier to help battle the mice. In the Mirliton variation, which in this production is for one girl as a butterfly partnered by Drosslemeyer, Ksenia Ovsyanick was beautifully fluid in her movements. It was a star turn of the evening, but there was fine dancing all round and Esteban Berlanga as one of the Cavaliers in the Waltz of the Flowers was wonderfully precise and on the music.

Lovely designs by Peter Farmer, well lit by David Richardson, and good musical direction by Gavin Sutherland from the orchestra pit, always sensitive to the tempos for the dancers.

Nutcracker not to be missed, but performances finish on January 5 and tickets are now few and far between — for details click here.

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