Sunday, 8 December 2019

English National Ballet at the Liverpool Empire

Standard YouTube Licence

English National Ballet The Nutcracker Liverpool Empire, 30 Nov 2019, 19:30

For many children who grew up in London and the Southeast in the 1960s and 1970s, the London Festival Ballet's Christmas seasons at the Royal Festival Hall offered a welcome alternative to pointless dialogues with the likes of Buttons or Wishee-Washee.  Instead of chanting "It's behind you" or "Oh no it isn't", they could marvel at Drosselmeyer's wizardry or the Sugarplum Fairy's daintiness.  The stage may have been less than ideal as the auditorium was a concert hall but those performances were superb.  Countless children developed a lifelong love of theatre in general and ballet in particular by those shows. Many of them will have pestered their parents for ballet lessons. At least a few will have been inspired to dance professionally.

The company has evolved since then.  It changed its name to English National Ballet or ENB many years ago. It has recently acquired new premises.  It has an impressive repertoire that includes groundbreaking new works.  It has performed to critical acclaim in many great opera houses and is recognized as one of the world's great companies.  Notwithstanding all those developments, it still performs The Nutcracker at Christmas though in conventional theatres rather than the Royal Festival Hall.  The version that it now performs was created by Wayne Eagling who directed the Dutch National Ballet between 1991 and 2003 and the English National Ballet between 2006 and 2012. He choreographed the Dutch National Ballet's version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (see the trailer for the current season).  I had previously seen ENB's version at the Coliseum in 2013 with Vadum Muntagirov and Daria Klimentiva in the leading roles (see Cracking 14 Dec 2013). I saw it again at the Liverpool Empire on 30 Nov 2019.

In my previous review I wrote:
"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."
I would still make those same criticisms today.  However, I added:
"Despite those reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed The Nutcracker on the opening night of its Christmas season. It will be at the Coliseum until 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."
I would also stand by the same commendation with the obvious observation that Junor Souza had been elevated to the Nutcracker in Liverpool and Shiori Kase danced Clara as an adult.  I think on balance that I prefer Eagling's version to Peter Wright's for the Royal Ballet and David Nixon's for Northern but I like Wright's version for the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Peter Darrell's for Scottish Ballet even more.

Kase was a delicious Sugarplum and Brooklyn Mack her gallant beau.  Streeter danced the Mouse King again in a thoroughly murine manner. So much so that he received a few unmerited boos at the reverence until he removed his mouse headgear whereupon h received deafening applause. Fabian Raimar was an impressive Drosselmeyer.  Drosselmeyer is probably key to the success of any performance of The Nutcracker since he appears in almost every scene.  I liked all the divertissements and congratulate all the artists who took part whose names are too numerous to mention.  If I had to single out any single performer it would be Precious Adams who led the flowers and snowflakes with consummate grace.  The advertised conductor was Gary Cornelius but the maestro who took the applause looked very much like Huddersfield's very own Gavin Sutherland.

Liverpool is a great place to watch ballet because the audience is always appreciative.  Possibly the best place in the United Kingdom and I say that as a native Mancunian and an adopted Londoner. Liverpudlians are England's Neapolitans.  If they like a show they do not so much clap and cheer as stamp and holler. The Empire's audience made a lot of noise on the Saturday night before last.

The Nutcracker is about to open in London where it will compete after Christmas with Birmingham's version in the Albert Hall but not with the Royal Ballet's this year.  Both shows are worth watching but readers are warned tickets will not be easy to get for either show.

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