In just a few years, the ENB has made its latest Nutcracker a real contender in the overcrowded Christmas stages across the UK.
Last year’s London leg saw almost 80,000 thrilled by the sumptuous retelling of the most seasonal of ballets.
This year has seen the ENB dazzle London with Akram Khan’s jaw-dropping reinvention of Giselle before settling back in the comfortable crinolines and confectionary of the perennial favourite.
A new cast saw Shiori Kase as Clara and Joseph Caley as the Nephew in a performance that delivered pace and virtuoso delights.
It’s easy to become cynical about this ballet. Performed every year by a bewildering array of companies, it’s tempting to dismiss it as a tired cliche, a childish anachronism. But then you sit there in the dark as toys come to life, snow starts to fall and childishness gives way to childlike wonder.
From the moment the curtains reveal ice skaters in snowy Victoriana, this production never lets up the pace, but it’s when midnight strikes that this version comes to joyous life.
The rats are nicely done and the toy soldiers and their hobby horses have the delightful and familiar feel of well-loved toys rather than flashes costumes. I also particularly loved the inventive use of a giant rat trap to catapult cheese back the massed military foe.
Drosselmeyer’s hot air balloon also provide a moment of truly splendid wonder for kids (and the rest of us) of all ages.
The ENB decision to have Clara danced by an adult principal rather than a teenage waif can be a huge advantage. Shiori Kase is technically impressive in the role and comes into her own in icy spelndour for the grand pas de deux and iconic finale.
She is less convincing as the innocent young Clara and stiffly fails to communicate any sense of wonder or girlish glee as she starts her extraordinary adventure.
and Alina Cojocaru is a dream from the moment she is swept in the snowy forest. Leaps, extensions and spins float as featherlight as her fluttering shift and your spirits soar with her.
Guilherme Menezes as her Nutcracker is dynamic and Joseph Caley is a delight of clean lines and beaming exhuberance as the handsome Nephew (the Nutcracker in human form).
The corps de ballet is pleasingly drilled and full of delights in the snowflakes set piece. They also make a sumptuous and stirring explosion of colour and clarity in a thrilling Waltz of the Flowers that raised as many cheers as the usual crowd-pleasing solos.
Some productions stage the final act in a palace, making the succession of folk dances become slightly wearisome in a static setting.The ENB makes a virtue of economy by leaving it in the forest with changing backdrops and lighting for each dance, transporting us to Spain, Arabia, China and beyond. It’s the first time I actually enjoyed each one as a standalone vignette.
With deft and delightful choreography throughout by Wayne Eagling and lavish sets and costumes, this is a fine Nutcracker, indeed.
The ENB Nutcracker is at the London Coliseum 13 December 2017 – 06 January 2018
Box Office: 020 7845 9300 or go to: www.ballet.org.uk/nutcracker