ENB are back in residence again at the Coliseum for a festive run of Wayne Eagling’s version of the Nutcracker. The production itself has some flaws: the switching between the Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer’s handsome nephew as Clara’s partner can be hard to follow, and the Arabian dance in Act 2 is a lapse into poor taste. To get the best out of the production, focus instead on the charming period details of act 1, an ideal lavishly decorated 19th century Christmas party scene, and the high quality of the dancing throughout, particularly from the lead couple.
The opening scene of skaters skimming along outside the family home as the guests arrive for the party is attractive and inventive, which could apply to all of Peter Farmer’s designs for the production. The costumes for the party guests are gorgeously rich. There are further delights in the form of the hot air balloon which arrives later in the act to whisk Clara away on her journey.
The children at the party are from Tring Park School, including the young Clara of Michaela Infante. (Remarkably calm and self possessed, she took her bouquet at the curtain call like a real professional). Her brother Freddie gets to have rather more fun. Matthew Cotton was an irrepressible brat who never took no for an answer. The young Clara meets Drosselmayer’s handsome nephew at the party: she is at least as interested in him as the Nutcracker doll she is given. Both the (now life-size) Nutcracker and the nephew appear later to partner Clara through her fantastical journey.
Daria Klimentova takes over as Clara later in the act as the tree grows and the mice and toy soldiers begin their battle. She is pleasingly fresh and alive as Clara, and has wonderfully quiet feet. She really blossoms in the final grand pas de deux with Vadim Muntagirov, which was truly celebratory. It ‘s a pleasure to watch a true partnership in action, and this seemingly unlikely match of the mature ballerina and her young partner really is one. They hear and feel the music as one. Together they have a mysterious ability to know exactly where each other is in space even if their back is turned. The connection is always present: watching, you know that he will be always be there at the right moment in support.
Muntagirov has a marvellous calm unhurried ease in his dancing. No technical challenge ever appears difficult to him; he sails through every jump and turn as easily as breathing. There is nothing flashy or flamboyant about his presence, he seems rather modest and keen to present us with the choreography (and his ballerina) as clearly and cleanly as possible rather than boast about what he can do. In every performance I’ve seen he seems to grow a little more each time in ability and authority.
The company as a whole look on strong form. They come to London having already toured Nutcracker and the production looks thoroughly rehearsed and everyone is on top of their roles. There are many dancers one could pick out, for example lead snowflakes Laurretta Sumerscales and Ksenia Ovysyanick, with a lovely performance from the latter also in Mirlitons. James Streeter has more fun than anyone else on stage as a very spirited Mouse King. Junor Souza is cursed with an unbecoming mask as the Nutcracker but his dancing looks clean and he partnered Klimentova with care. However, Fabian Remair as Drosselmeyer remained something of an enigma whose motivation was unclear, but that in part is down to the production itself.
It’s a very family-friendly occasion. The children in the audience were better behaved than the boys at the party on stage. Despite the frequency with which the work is performed, the company manage to retain a warmth and freshness in their presentation of it. Credit for this must also go to the orchestra under Gavin Sutherland. It’s Nutcracker time: that special Christmas feeling has now arrived.