English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Christmas magic

English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.

The Nutcracker certainly possesses its own dose of Christmas magic, annually drawing large crowds (including many who first-time dance viewers) to enjoy a live ballet performance.

The resplendent London Coliseum creates a buzzy festive atmosphere, as well-dressed patrons pose for pictures in front of the stage and gorgeous pink Christmas tree, formed of pointe shoes.

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker first act demonstrates the hustle and bustle of Christmas parties, with beautiful screen projections of scattered snow flurries. In contrast to the lovely winter scene, slapstick comedy ensues as ice skaters shove each other, topple over and hurl snowballs, which children will especially appreciate.

English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.
English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.

Inside, children and adults dance at the Christmas party; but balletomanes may become impatient as the adult dancers parade around. The ladies’ richly coloured costumes swish elegantly near their ankles, but the dancing seems restrained and mostly reduced to port de bras.

Watching the children from local ballet schools (such as Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and English National Ballet School) is a delight, and young dancers Sophie Carter and Nicolas Pereira Da Silva delivered admirable character performances as young Clara and young Freddie; but the more fantastic dance scenes are reserved until later in the show.

After young Clara drifts off to sleep, James Streeter dashes about the stage as a wonderfully dastardly, rascally Mouse King in the battle between the mice and toy soldiers. Wily, he darts into action, commanding his forces against the soldiers – some of whom emerge riding horses, thanks to clever costuming.

English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.
English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.

Rina Kanehara draws empathy from the crowd as she plays an apprehensive adult Clara, nervously rubbing her arms and feebly reigning blows on the Mouse King as he carries her away. But her dancing is much more captivating after her magic balloon ride escape with Drosselmeyer and his nephew.

The flurry of dancers celebrating the Mouse King’s defeat sets a lively pace as the Spanish dancers swish their skirts with bravado and move with perfect punctuality, but the Arabian variation is tired. Four females enter the stage, hips jutting out in an outrageous fashion. The snake arms are wispy and frail; and it’s a shame because even a short consultation with a professional belly dancer could have easily remedied some of the movement qualities.

The Chinese troupe came on stage in a mercifully short number with much bowing, childishly flexed wrists and ankles and allusions to acrobatics; and while four female Russian dancers kick their red boots, all eyes are on the enormous bounds of Ken Saruahashi, who impresses with energetic leaps and spins.

English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.
English National Ballet in Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo.

Despite clever staging with dance in rounds, the waltz of the flowers feels cramped with the entire corps on stage. However, the dreamy duet with Clara and Drosselmeyer’s nephew effortlessly fills the space with arabesques, lifts and supported pirouettes galore. The pair remains present during their triumphant partnerwork; and they dazzle with technical solos: Jeffrey Cirio seems to hang in the air as he leaps, and Kanehara solidly whips out fouette turns with two rotations each.

The classic show, Tchaikvsky’s music and talented lead dancers manage to captivate the audience with its whimsy. After young Clara awakens and the show draws to a close, leaving the magical characters behind, Christmas cheer lingers in the theatre.

Reviewed on 13th of December at the London Coliseum 

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