Review: English National Ballet in The Nutcracker at London Coliseum

Performance: 8-24 Dec.06
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 13 December 2006

The ENB’s current version of *The Nutcracker, created in 2002, has been given a rocky road both by regular ballet-goers and the London-based dance critics. *Christopher Hampson’s choreography is not that of Petipa or Peter Wright, nor is it a wholly avant garde interpretation in the style of, say, Matthew Bourne or Mark Morris: his movement lies somewhere in between the classical roots of the ballet’s tradition and a modern style and I’m not forcing a point to say that I liked it… a lot. More to the point, my 13 year-old daughter declared it to be ‘cool’ and that is a mighty accolade indeed. We both loved the choreographic thought behind the episode in which dancers – as icicles – sequentially leap out of a giant fridge like arrows raining down in some medieval battle.

Modernity is supplied by Gerald Scarfe’s glorious concept for its setting and costumes, which achieves excellence in every way, most notably in the technicolor cartoon fantasy he creates for its storybook setting. Scarfe protects and enhances all the key elements of the story – the transformation of Clara to doll-size and the growth of the giant Christmas tree is handled in such a way that even the 6 year-old behind me knew what was occurring. The effective realisation of Scarfe’s designs for the ballet is amongst the most rewarding I’ve seen.

As the Nutcracker, Yosvani Ramos once again impressed as he continues to build an enviable reputation as a strong principal dancer with outstanding clarity of movement, line and expression – all underpinned by that certain nobility which great male dancers portray without exposing the strain that underlies it. Thomas Edur is a dancer that has achieved this effortless brilliance for many years and every occasion to catch his masterclass is worth making: there’s no doubt that his solo in the famous concluding “Sugar Plum Fairy” pas de deux was unusually taxing and he had to work hard to mitigate over rotation and the potential for unbalanced landings but the application was as intense as ever (where he could have eased off and not many would have known) and his attitude never lost its dominating aura of complete control. As his Sugar Plum Fairy, Agnes Oaks was a delicate, ethereal star possessed of magical movement, especially in the controlled precision of her pirouettes.

Fernanda Oliveira was a delightful and very believable Clara, although I had some technical concerns about aspects of her footwork and Juan Rodriguez was an appropriately dominant influence as the magician, Drosselmeyer. Amongst the supporting dancers, Begoña Cao stood out in Hampson’s homage to Roland Petit through his Arabian dance.

For what it is and what it should be, I find it churlish to fault this production: there are many Nutcrackers around this Christmas but – if you haven’t seen it – this is a good one to try. It runs at the Coliseum until Christmas Eve.

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