|English National Ballet, "The Nutcracker" London Coliseum 11 Dec 2013|
One of the pleasures of Christmas growing up in Surrey in the nineteen sixties and early seventies was London Festival Ballet's Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall. It quickly became part of the London Christmas like the Regent Street illuminations and the Norwegian spruce in Trafalgar Square. It would appear from Alistair Macaulay's Nutcracker Chronicles in the New York Times when he set out to see 20 versions across the USA in December 2010 that there is a similar tradition elsewhere though not everywhere for Tamara Rojo writes in the programme for English National Ballet's current production that the first time she saw the work was when she was asked to dance in it for Scottish Ballet. The tradition continues though London Festival Ballet has changed its name to English National Ballet and it is now at the Coliseum and not the Festival Hall.
English National's current version of The Nutcracker is by Wayne Eagling and he has made a few changes to Petipa's choreography and Hoffmann's story such as setting it by the Thames rather than somewhere in Mitteleuropa, casting Clara as a grown woman fusing her with The Sugar Plum Fairy and letting the mouse hang on (literally) into the second Act which I am not altogether sure that I like. Turning Clara into an adult in particular takes away some of the innocence and indeed charm of a ballet which for me and many others is about sweets, toy soldiers and rampaging rodents.
Despite those reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed The Nutcracker on the opening night of its Christmas season. It will be at the Coliseum until the 5 Jan 2014. It is well worth seeing for Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov's brilliance, for Peter Farmer's designs, for the sparkling Spanish, Arabic and Russian dances and other divertissements in the second Act and the wonderful character artistry by Junor Souza as the Nutcracker and James Streeter as King Mouse. There are some cute touches like a rat in a kilt in Act 1 (which may become a regular feature in English versions if Scotland votes the wrong way in September), using a mousetrap as a catapult and the substitution of a balloon for a sleigh as a transport to the kingdom of sweets and the land of dreams.
In the last 12 months I have seen Northern Ballet's Nutcracker at The Grand in Leeds, Ballet West's in Pitlochry and now English National's at the Coliseum as well as live streaming of the Royal Ballet's version from Covent Garden last year. Nothing like as many as Mr. Macaulay saw in his marathon but still a fair number. Do I have a favourite? Oh please don't ask me that for it is like asking parents to choose between their children. I love them all. I am just so grateful to every dancer who has ever been on the stage for his or her vocation and for sticking at it through years of training and risking injury to bring unadulterated pleasure to millions like me.