There’s something about going to London’s Coliseum that makes me feel warm and secure, rather like when you’re a kid and there’s nothing to worry about apart from what mum’s decided to make for dinner on Wednesday night. A show like Nutcracker truly captures the essence of Christmas, which only heightens this sense of security to a point of perfection. I have wanted to experience what I consider to be one of the quintessential ballets for quite some time and this production, performed by the English National Ballet, certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, this libretto was originally scored by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and premièred at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1892. Just like Tchaikovsky’s first ballet, Swan Lake, it was not an initial success, receiving a unanimously negative reaction from critics. In fact, Swan Lake was so badly panned that it took Tchaikovsky 13 years to once again return to ballet music. However, since the 1950s Nutcracker has celebrated a wealth of popularity, mostly because of the phenomenal and diverse productions put on by the English National Ballet (originally the London Festival Ballet) in Europe and the New York City Ballet in the USA.
This is the English National Ballet’s tenth production of the show and is perhaps one of its most traditional, with others placing the action in various societies including nineteenth century Germany, Tchaikovsky’s Russia and 1990s nouveau riche Britain. It appears as though the interpretation currently showing at the Coliseum, which first premièred in 2010, has gone back to the roots of what makes Christmas so spectacular. Think of the picture books you were mostly likely told stories from as a child, and of the Santa Claus and winter scenes we see on classic Christmas cards. This is what designer Peter Farmer has imagined for us, and this is what will make this year’s performance so memorable.
From the moment young Clara (the adorable Micaela Infante) is seen in her bedroom – a scene which is beautifully lit by the talented David Richardson – it is fairly obvious what this will bring aesthetically. From a ballroom scene exclusively acceptable within the aristocracy, to an ice lake outside the cleverly devised house, and then travelling across the globe to beautifully scenic locations – I don’t think anything could have been better thought out. Even small details such as a growing Christmas tree looming over the evil mouse king make this one of the best shows I have ever witnessed: but, of course, Wayne Eagling’s choreography is what the audience are essentially coming to see. Lead principals Darla Klimentova (adult Clara) and Vadim Muntagirov (Freddie and the Nutcracker) make me equally envious and awestruck as they glide across the stage with such grace and ease, especially during the pas de deux in Act Two. Other standouts include Ksenia Ovsyanick as the Mirliton and all dancers involved in the puppet theatre scene.
It’s difficult to put into words just how remarkable this is. Every element is a pure delight, from the Tchaikovsky-drawn score, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, the quick-as-a-flash, breathtaking scene changes, the exquisite costumes – all of which required at least 24 people to work on them and collectively included approximately £10,000 worth of Swarovski elements – and probably most notably, the dancing and choreography. Admittedly, the 1990s and other more modern interpretations of Nutcracker are especially intriguing to me, but this one is what will make you believe in the magic of Christmas. It is what generations of people, from all walks of life and from all over the world, will be talking about in years to come.
Nutcracker is playing at the London Coliseum until 5 January 2014. For more information and tickets, see the English National Opera website.
Photo by Annabel Moeller.