Review: English National Ballet - The Nutcracker - London Coliseum

Performance: 11 December 2013 - 5 January 2014
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 12 December 2013

English National Ballet - 'The Nutcracker'

Performance reviewed: 11 December

Another week, another Wednesday and another opening night of The Nutcracker. The remarkable viral phenomenon of this Christmas ballet is occurring all over the world and we now have two versions of this seasonal classic running side-by-side in London: English National Ballet’s production by its former artistic director Wayne Eagling, here at the Coliseum, while Sir Peter Wright’s** 30 year-old classic is being performed by the Royal Ballet, just a stone’s throw away at the Opera House. Far from being bored by this surfeit of nuts to crack, the first rate quality of the productions on offer in London makes each performance a special event to savour. ENB’s opening show ended at 10pm on 11/12/13 and it seemed an appropriately unique time and date to mark a very special occasion.

The unheralded aspect of this celebration is down to the fact that it is highly improbable that Daria Klimentová, the ENB’s senior Lead Ballerina (in the eyes of many, including my own, the company’s Prima Ballerina in all but name), will ever again dance the lead role in an opening night in London. After nearly two decades with the company, it’s hard to imagine her absence; but it is an inescapable fact that there are unlikely to be many more seasons to come, if any at all. If this is the last London Opening Night for Klimentová, then she could not have given a better performance with which to sign off.

Youth may be wasted on the young but Klimentová shows that you can still be a girl, whatever your age, as she rolled back the years in her effortless mimicry of child-like joy and enthusiasm. It is remarkable how this woman of 42 makes one truly believe that she is the young heroine, Clara. Her tiny physique and the beautiful framing of her gorgeous arms, shaped through the silky discipline of her Vaganova schooling, encourage this age-defying deceit. Vadim Muntagirov is 19 years’ Klimentová’s junior but their partnership is as perfect a pairing as apple strudel with cream and their grand pas de deux, which effectively concludes this ballet, was mesmerizing.

Eagling made the choreography devilishly difficult, not least in the challenging adagio followed by the ferociously tiring female variation. He made it even worse by giving the man one of the shortest variations ever so that the ballerina has no more than 30 seconds to rest between these mighty challenges. Her 3-minute variation is then as hard as it can be with the most complicated manèges (a long technically-demanding combination of steps) straight into energy-sapping fouettés. Thanks to the world-class coaching of Loipa Araújo, Klimentová made this complex choreography seem like a Sunday stroll with never a hint of tiredness or any slight waver in the correctness of her technique. And it is the strength of Muntagirov’s secure partnering – the most unsung of his many attributes – that enabled Klimentová to focus so freely on her own astounding performance.

A different dancer plays the title role in this production and here it was Junor Souza who made light of the inconvenience of dancing full-on in a cumbersome mask. He is evolving into a very fine – and strong – male lead. One of my slight quibbles about Eagling’s choreography is that the “little” pas de deux that follows the battle with the mice is simply not significant enough for the gorgeous melodies in Tchaikovsky’s music (which, by the way, was played superbly by the ENB Orchestra). The battle itself is a very inconsequential skirmish although the Mouse King (James Streeter) and his retinue are properly scary!

I was very impressed by the commanding performance of the corps de ballet as the snowflakes, swirling around in their beautiful tutus as if the genuine articles. There is strength of discipline and an arresting elegance about the corps’ work which is as much a testament as any other to the success of the new regime under Tamara Rojo’s artistic leadership. The performances of Laurretta Summerscales and Ksenia Ovsyanick as the Lead Snowflakes and Ovsyanick’s gorgeous solo as a Lead Flower amply illustrated that the future generation of principal ballerinas at the ENB is developing very well. I was also once more impressed by Alison McWhinney as another of the leading flowers.

There were some slight technical glitches with the production but it is all made worthwhile by the strength of Eagling’s choreography in the crucial set pieces, which became truly magical in the most absorbing and entertaining pas de deux by Klimentová and Muntagirov. They danced as if it were the last dance.

Continues at the London Coliseum until 5 January 2014

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.

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