Photo: Annabel Moeller
English National Ballet have presented a Nutcracker every Christmas for the last 60 years. Their current version, with choreography by former company director Wayne Eagling, was created amidst artistic fireworks captured in 2011 BBC documentary, ‘Agony and Ecstasy’. But in spite of these initial very publicly-aired hiccups, the production is now becoming a staple Christmas treat, filled with the charm and magic that every Nutcracker needs.
James Streeter as the Mouse King
Photo: Patrick Baldwin
The production is set traditionally in Edwardian times, but Eagling makes other changes to the story to give the ballet a contemporary twist. For example, the Mouse King (pictured) is undefeated in the Act I battle and it is Clara herself who becomes the jewel-studded Sugar Plum Fairy. Some of these touches are unsuccessful – Clara’s brother Freddie’s Act II reincarnation during a sado-masochistic Arabian dance is downright bizarre – but most make for a heart-warming and engaging narrative. The ballet is also filled with sweet moments. Dr Drosselmeyer (perhaps so titled because he has a PHD in magic?) peeps his head out from the grandfather clock to change the time to midnight, a giant mouse trap is used to catapult cheese during the battle and party children from Tring Park School bring a delightful sense of wide-eyed Christmas excitement.
The company is in excellent shape, with the corps de ballet (pictured in Snowflakes) superbly synchronised, no doubt due to the efforts of new Ballet Mistress, Hua Fang Zhang. Nancy Osbaldeston, Crystal Costa and Daniel Kraus make a fabulously exuberant Spanish trio and Ksenia Ovsyanick looks more assured than ever in her beautifully-performed Mirlitons. The orchestra also play Tchaikovsky’s score with distinction under the baton of Gavin Sutherland.
But it is modern-day Fonteyn and Nureyev, Daria Klimentova (pictured) and Vadim Muntagirov, who steal the show. Both sparkle as brightly as their Swarovski crystal-studded costumes and make Eagling’s detailed and sometimes hurried choreography look easy. Deservedly promoted to Lead Principal on The Nutcracker’s opening night, Muntagirov displays exceptional classical technique, particularly in his incredible whirring pirouettes that stop dead before he kneels effortlessly into his finishing position. Klimentova seems to float in her solo, gliding across the floor with a poise and elegance that perfectly matches the accompanying celesta music.
As the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker is sold-out, this production makes an enchanting alternative, especially if you can catch the spectacular Klimentova/Muntagirov partnership on 26 Dec (mat), 28 Dec (eve) and 5 Jan (eve).