Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, December 2014Posted on 12 December 2014
The great charm of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original story is the interplay between the real and imaginary worlds of Clara’s life, both inhabited by her beloved godfather Drosselmeyer.
This production emphasises Drosselmeyer’s ambiguous role in his pursuit of a dancing butterfly in the Act II mirliton section, but the clever main idea is to have the mouse-fighting Nutcracker gradually morph into Drosselmeyer’s nephew, whom Clara has delightedly danced with at the party. Both appear in Nutcracker costume, and after several interchanges between the two Clara finds herself with the charming nephew, and her dreams are realised when they later reappear in glorious new costumes for an ecstatic pas-de-deux.
Framing this magic is Clara’s bedroom at start and finish, with a final peep outside where she and her brother Freddie see Drosselmeyer’s magical balloon drift past in the distance. This is the balloon Drosselmeyer used to transport Clara and the Nephew from Act I to Act II, with the Mouse King hanging on beneath before he is finally vanquished in the second act. It all works, in my view brilliantly well, and dancing from the whole company was spot on.
I had the pleasure of seeing both opening night and the following day’s matinee. On opening night Alina Cojocaru made a superb Clara, a lovely ingénue beautifully partnered by the Company’s recent new principal Alejandro Virelles whose flair and stage presence were a joy to see. Great presence too from Fabian Reimair as Drosselmeyer (opening night) and the Arabian dance (matinee), along with James Streeter as a dangerously menacing Mouse King and admirable Drosselmeyer at the matinee, where Ken Saruhashi made an excellent Nutcracker. On opening night it was Max Westwell who gave a strong performance of this masked defender, appearing at the matinee as a very noble Nephew and partner to the charming Clara of Begoña Cao.
Among the soloists, Yonah Acosta and Fernando Bufalá were outstanding in the Spanish and Russian dances, while at the matinee Bufalá showed great Spanish flair and Pedro Lapeta plenty of Russian bounce. Ksenia Ovsyanik and Isabelle Brouwers both showed light and lovely movements as the butterfly mirliton, SenriKou was terrific in the Chinese dance, and Laurretta Summerscales and Alison McWhinney made charming lead flowers, as did Anjuli Hudson who showed a lovely line.
But this is really a Company success, with superb ensemble dancing and hugely joyful spontaneity in the party scene, where Sereina Mowlem and Basil James as the young Clara and Freddie were a delight. Excellent orchestral playing under music director Gavin Sutherland who showed a beautifully light touch at that moment of renewal after the Act I battle when in this production Clara helps the wounded Nutcracker to his feet. The children all around me at the matinee sat in silent enchantment.
Performances at the London Coliseum continue with various casts until January 4 — for details click here.