English National Ballet – The Nutcracker, Kase and Vargas cast – London

Snowflakes in <I>The Nutcracker</I> (in 2010).<br />© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)
Snowflakes in The Nutcracker (in 2010).
© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)

English National Ballet
The Nutcracker

Shiori Kase and Arionel Vargas cast
London, Coliseum
12 December 2012
London Coliseum

Sadly ENB have no pictures of any of the lead dancers in the roles reviewed.

ENB packs in dozens of Nutcracker performances at the Coliseum over the holiday period.  The huge workload can mean opportunities for some of the more junior members of the company to take on leading roles and show us what they can do. In this performance the lead role of Clara was taken by Shiori Kase, an artist of the company, the most junior rank, with Nathan Young, another artist, as the Nutcracker. Juan Rodriguez, a junior soloist, was Drosselmeyer. More experience was supplied by the principal, Arionel Vargas, as Drosselmeyer’s Nephew, Clara ‘s partner in the grand pas de deux.

Shiori Kase has already impressed.  She was ENB’s Emerging Dancer of the year in 2011. As Clara she gave a charming, confident performance, a thoroughly believable young girl, swept away by the wonder of the fantastic sights of Act 2.   This wasn’t her debut in the role, but it was remarkably polished and complete for one so young. She was in the secure and supportive hands of Vargas for the grand pas de deux. She luxuriated in the music and gave the impression of loving every minute and every technical challenge that came along (but especially fouettées).  It was very accomplished, not just proficient in the execution of the steps, but in communicating the role.

The stress in Wayne Eagling’s production is very much on Clara rather than her two partners. It is settling down well after its initial fraught beginnings a couple of years ago, though there are still some things that don’t work so well (particularly the Arabian dance, which is a serious lapse of taste).  Clara’s masked Nutcracker partner representing the doll she has been given is still sometimes confusingly swapped at times for Drosselmeyer’s handsome nephew who caught her eye at the children’s party.  This might have been intended to show us a Clara caught between childhood and the adult world but it does not work persuasively or clearly on stage.

Arionel Vargas, here in The Arabian Dance.<br />© Patrick Baldwin. (Click image for larger version)
Arionel Vargas, here in The Arabian Dance.
© Patrick Baldwin. (Click image for larger version)

Kase can dazzle us with her smile but it is much harder for Nathan Young to make an impression in his debut as the Nutcracker. The production traps him under his mask and we only get to see his face properly at the curtain call.  Young is one of the six dancers of the company in competition for the Emerging Dancer title this year. The winner is chosen at a public competition on March 4th next year at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.  He may have a much better chance to demonstrate his personality on this occasion. Kase certainly seemed to trust him as a partner.  Arionel Vargas is required to look handsome and elegant as Clara’s partner in the pas de deux which comes very naturally, and he is a caring and courteous partner.

Juan Rodriguez as Drosselmeyer needs a little more practice to get his magic tricks working smoothly in the first act.  He does not yet quite have the authority to persuade us that Drosselmeyer can truly command the action.  Some of this may be weaknesses in the production itself: he vanishes from the action at times.

Act 1 is very attractively done.  This is a Christmas party we would all like to be invited to.  Clara as a young girl in the opening scenes (Annabella Sanders ) is a very spirited creature. All the children (from Tring Park School) are very animated, and individually characterised (the little girl who has tears and a tantrum particularly so).  The children pop up in the large box next to the stage to provide the singing to accompany the snowflakes.  The Christmas tree may be a bit wobbly as it grows but there is plenty of Christmas magic around. The tiny tots surrounding me were spellbound and wonderfully well behaved.

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