English National Ballet
Music: Pyotr Illyich Tchaikowsky
Choregraphy: Christopher Hampton
Concept and Design: Gerald Scarfe
Lighting: John Rayment
17 – 30 Dec 2008
A Review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
English National Ballet’s delightful production of Tchaikowsky’s Christmas classic seems to get more enjoyable with each passing season, largely due to subtle changes made to its choreography and staging. This year’s production sees the ballet’s dreamier aspects rising to the fore, enhanced, perhaps by the youthening of teenage Clara’s Nutcracker Prince, thus furthering its romantic potential.
Softly falling snow, childhood fears, a young girl’s dreams of love and bedtime stories, the latter as told by a magician, all conjoin to form of The Nutcracker’s fantastical storyline. Clara, a young teenage girl, dreams of love, a dream embodied by her longing for a Nutcracker shaped like a Prince which she spies in a shop window. However, this particular Nutcracker is amongst the many wonders in the window of family friend Drosselmeyer’s Magic Supermart. Act I begins on Christmas Eve, at a party in Clara’s family’s palatial home, where we are introduced to a myriad of characters as they arrive, many of whom will, eventually, be transformed into distinctly different ones in Act II.
The first thing one appreciates about ENB’s Nutcracker is its stunning sets, from Act I’s huge storybook, through which its colourful cast of characters step and its party scene’s gargantuan Christmas tree, to the sweetly hued, chocolate stepped candy land of Act II. It is not necessary to be familiar with Gerald Scarfe’s entire canon to be able to quickly access that he has simply outdone himself with this beautifully staged production! John Rayment’s lighting is also integral to the success of scene and, locale changes of this stunning production.
As Tchaikowsky’s overture began, the crowd seemed to settle in, as if seated by their own holly strewn hearths listening to a favourite Christmas story, which was appropriate, as the show begins with Drosselmeyer, opening the pages of a gigantic storybook to a page featuring a wintry scene, out of which step the characters from Act I. In the magician’s enchanting hands, the book opens up into a marvellous toy-shop, and the audience, along with Clara and her brother Fritz are captivated by the transformation. Later, at the party, all the usual Christmas trappings are there: cakes, puddings, toys, games, champagne, flirting, dancing and, as a special present for Clara from Drosselmeyer, the longed for Nutcracker, though unbeknown to her, it is an enchanted one.
In addition, actual character nuances further enhance, such as this production’s visibly shy teenage Clara, compared to the overly confident temperament of her girlfriend, as evidenced by the latter’s ardent pursuing of boys, and her encouraging of Clara to do the same, traits which, in the opening scenes, neatly meld into the choreography to great effect. Some of the ballet’s more famous scenes also appear to have been revamped, such as the battle between the mouse king and his army of gas mask wearing mice and the red and white camouflage clad ‘toy soldiers’ seeking to defeat them. This is a scene in which John Rayment’s lighting is particularly pivotal to the effectiveness of the action, with its beaming search lights and parachuting army and the resulting scene is truly, fantastic!
The dancing itself is, in the case of press night Clara, Venus Villa and her Nutcracker partner, Nicholas Reeves, as well as the more seasoned duo of Erina Takahasi and Dmitri Druzeyev performing pas de deux , very pleasurable to watch in the case of the former pairing and, in the case of the latter coupling, simply sublime! Fabian Reimar’s Drosselmeyer was also very dynamic, as was the aforementioned Grandpa, as danced by Adam Pudney. In Act II, Pedro Lapetra was also a crowd pleaser as the Russian, leaping through the air, seemingly, with the greatest of ease to ooohs and aaahs from the audience.
Everything about English National Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker this season is, as always, charming, and very festive, from the first strains of its beloved overture, to its many, well deserved curtain calls.
London Coliseum St. Martin’s Lane, Trafalgar Square,
London Telephone: +44 (0) 871 472 0800 £8 — £60
EXTRA! EXTRA! www.extraextra.org
Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved