Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
We feel like a child eager to open a long-awaited Christmas present when the orchestra starts playing and the red curtain goes up. It’s worth the wait: English National Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is a visual explosion of dance, music and scenography from the off.
It’s Christmas Eve and little Clara is getting ready for the festive celebration taking place in her house. During the party, she receives the gift of a Nutcracker from Dr Drosselmeyer, an old family friend who entertains the guests with magic tricks and a puppet theatre. The stage is crowded — our eyes darting all over the place in an attempt to catch the movements and pirouettes of a multitude of dancers in sumptuous outfits.
The turning point comes when Clara falls asleep. The scenery changes and the real tale begins: a dreamy atmosphere is the set of Clara’s initial nightmare, where the evil Mouse King tries to harm the Nutcracker, who appears as a dashing soldier. The action is frenetic and tense: the bodies of the dancers move at a persistent rhythm whilst keeping perfect coordination. Then, as soon as the Nutcracker gets injured, the battle dissolves into a land of snow.
The romantic dance between Clara and the Nutcracker is perfectly balanced: Alina Cojocaru appears light as a feather when the hands of Max Westwell lift her up with extreme agility. The protagonists’ pas de deux is one of the high points of the show, alongside the Sugar Plum Fairy’s choreography.
In the second part of the ballet, we’re transported to the puppet theatre of Dr Drosselmeyer. Dancers from all over the world — representing China, Spain, Arabia and Russia — move to some of Tchaikovsky’s finest, backed by mesmerising scenery.
Although the narrative is difficult to follow sometimes, the show is magnetic and absolutely enchanting. We can’t take our eyes off the shiny costumes and the delicate movements of the dancers’ bodies, which create perfect geometries on stage. Praise must go to the production value of the show, notably the costumes. Over 3,000 metres of fabric are used for these — a total of 400 outfits. 24 people worked on costumes, including one milliner and three wig makers. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
When Tchaikovsky first presented the ballet in 1892, The Nutcracker wasn’t received well by the critics. These days, we couldn’t imagine a Christmas without the ballet, and this particular production is cracking.
Londonist saw this ballet on a complimentary ticket.