There is nothing quite as Christmassy as the Nutcracker and even more of a treat seeing it performed by the English National ballet. A show often frequented by grandparents with their grandchildren, I didn’t know whether the magic of the Nutcracker would still resonate with me as a young adult.
For those of you who don’t know the story, the Nutcracker is a tale of a young girl at a Christmas party who gets given a Nutcracker doll. When she goes to sleep she has an extraordinary dream about the Nutcracker battling a Mouse King and then turning into a handsome soldier who in reality is one of the attendees of the party. All of the excitement is set to the stunning music of Tchaikovsky.
Most of the actual story line is contained in the first half, at which point Tchaikovsky must have run out of steam and decided to simply write a beautiful variety of music for the dancers to indulge in – and indulge the English National Ballet did.
The dancing in this performance is absolutely stunning. Both Clara as a child and Clara in the dream were incredible. Sophie Carter gave a characterful performance with amazing stamina for a young girl, and Erina Takahashi danced Clara like nothing I have ever seen before. She was truly breathtaking.
Her chemistry dancing with Skyler Martin’s Nutcracker only just eclipsed Francesco Gabriele Frola’s performance as the nephew. All of the senior dancers were immaculate in fact. In particular, the dances from around the world in Act 2 were brilliant. You could truly tell how much the dancers were enjoying themselves and it came through to elevate their performances. In Act 1, there was a lot of use of the younger dancers and although they were very sweet, their inexperience slightly showed and I would really have preferred to have more from the amazing senior dancers.
Whilst all of the dancing was fluid and beautiful, the real magic came from the scenery and costumes. From glittering tutus and buckets of chiffon to the authentic court dress of the Victorian era, the costumes lifted the performance perfectly. The sets were changed and adapted seamlessly, transporting us from the party to a magical forest beautifully. The cleverness of the sets were truly captured when the glowing clock face was left illuminated as Clara went into her dreamland in a nod to Richard Docherty’s 1976 Nutcracker sets that were centred around the clock face.
This performance was visually beautiful, however, upon leaving I found a slight feeling that I was missing something. Whilst the ballet left a Christmassy glow, and a huge admiration for the strength and skill of the dancers, I was missing the extra wow factor that would have taken it to the next level. In such a tricky theatre landscape, being simple and beautiful often isn’t quite enough.