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This opened last night at the London Coliseum.  All comments and discussion here, please.  

 

Starter for ten:

 

I was there last night and was singularly unimpressed.  I never went back after the first time it was shown here because I didn't like it, and now I remember why.  I will write a proper review tomorrow so will hold back further comment until then.  

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Saw Tamara Rojo's Instagram pic today, it revealed she was Clara in today's and Sunday's matinee....too bad all the performances were sold out before the casts were named so I won't get to see her.

Looking forward to seeing the reviews

 

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1 hour ago, Rob S said:

Saw Tamara Rojo's Instagram pic today, it revealed she was Clara in today's and Sunday's matinee....too bad all the performances were sold out before the casts were named so I won't get to see her.

Looking forward to seeing the reviews

 

 

This cast change was put up on the appropriate thread on BCF a while ago.

 

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English National Ballet

Nutcracker, London Coliseum

13 December 2018

 

I hadn't seen Wayne Eagling's Nutcracker (which he brought over from Dutch National Ballet when he moved from there to ENB as Artistic Director) since its first outing in London in 2010. Why the long gap? Because that first time I saw it, it didn't do much for me. I was curious to see if my feelings and the production had changed over the years.

 

As always with a narrative ballet, I didn't read the programme synopsis in advance because I like to see whether the story is told clearly, whether it talks to me in some way, or makes me feel some emotion. I'm afraid that in this case none of these things happened. The narrative is confused and confusing; it seems more like a series of vignettes, with no cohesive story to glue the whole together. I know it's a dream, and strange things happen in dreams, but we are none the wiser as to why anything is happening. Why is little Clara so infatuated by a much older nephew? Why all of a sudden does Clara become an adult before the dream sequence? Why does the Nutcracker keep alternating between himself and Drosselmeyer's nephew? I could go on and on....

 

Choreographically, there is not enough of it to fill that glorious Tchaikovsky score.  I love the opening segment, with skaters gliding up and down a frozen river in front of the house;  it is very original and perhaps a result of its Dutch origins.  The waltzes (Snowflakes and Flowers) are both nicely done, creating interesting patterns and making you feel the contrast between a cold winter and a warm spring. The rest of the divertissements in Act 2 veer between strange (Arabian) and weak (Mirliton). Luckily the grand pas de deux is pretty much untouched, so that is a relief. The Russian is fun and the Spanish is sunny enough, but I can't remember it two days later. The set looks cheap, and you can see it wobbling and shaking. The frontispiece is lovely, as are the painted backdrops, but the scenery itself, such as it is, looks a bit sad and gloomy to me. Maybe it looks better from a bit higher up (I was in the stalls).

 

Were there any positives? Yes, and here they are. First of all, the children. They feature heavily in Act 1, and I was very impressed with all of them. They are a combination of students from Tring and the ENBS, and they are mighty good. Little Sophie Carter is the child Clara, and she does a great job. I was so impressed that she has the oomph to dance on such a big stage, in front of such a big audience, all alone except for a mechanical doll. Nicolas Pereira da Silva also does a fine job as young Freddie, Clara's cheeky brother. The pair of them deliver both the conflict and the love between siblings very convincingly. Both of them are from Tring which seems to be producing some excellent young dancers. As for the ENB dancers, they were as always very impressive. Rina Kanehara was good as Clara/Sugar Plum Fairy, but she would have had a better time if she had been partnered with someone who wasn't too small for her. Jeffrey Cirio is a fine dancer (and his variation in the grand pdd was very well executed) but here he struggled with the lifts and as soon as Kanehara was up on pointe she was taller than him. Her variation was very good; she is a fast and accurate turner, and she was quite impressive. Fernando Carratala Coloma, with his height, good looks and lovely technique is one to watch: a future Principal perhaps and certainly a prince. I would have liked to see him dancing the nephew. A high point for me was James Streeter's Mouse King; naughty and hilarious, and stealing the limelight even during the curtain calls. Alison McWhinney was gorgeous as ever, both as Clara's sister Louise, and later as the Mirliton, where she did her absolute best with not much choreographic substance. Daniel McCormick was another highlight of the evening for me, doing a technically assured and very sensual job in the Spanish Dance. Ken Saruahashi was marvellous in the Russian Dance and it really lifted Act 2. Great turns, wonderful jumps....it got deserved and lengthy applause. As mentioned earlier, the Waltz of the Flowers was really nicely choreographed and beautifully executed by all onstage, aided by their lovely rose-pink costumes. Tiffany Hedman and Precious Adams were both subtly beautiful as the lead flowers, ably partnered by Skyler Martin and Aitor Arrieta. The latter has been on my 'to watch' list for a couple of years now.

 

The ENB Philharmonic gave a lush delivery of the score, and how could they not when they were being conducted by the ever-reliable Gavin Sutherland? A word also for the children's choir. It doesn't say on the cast list who they are for some reason, so I can't name check them, but I loved the way they were placed in the box by the stage, lined up from smallest to tallest, all with their hands in front of them, one on top of the other, elbows out to the sides. They reminded me of an extended Von Trapp family singing onstage in the Saltzburg Festival. This choir sang just as well as they did.

 

So, a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed the dancing (but was unimpressed with most of the choreography), the singing, the music. It is the production that doesn't work for me. Since becoming Artistic Director of the company, Tamara Rojo has commissioned many new pieces, and I can't remember any of them being duds (unlike in other companies). She seems to have a real understanding of what will work for her dancers, and I would therefore love to see her commission a new Nutcracker, made on the company and not brought in from anywhere else. I am sure it would be a success and delight audiences of all ages.

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3 hours ago, Sim said:

A word also for the children's choir. 

Glad to hear they have a choir. Could swear they cut them (cost cutting presumably) at one stage. 

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Sim - I thought the first piece on the Voices of America programme was fairly dud. Can 't remember much about it. 

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Thanks for these reviews everyone. I've seen this production 3-4 times and am aware of the mixed reaction audiences and critics have had to it. I believe the production is about 7-8 years old now and I must admit I am sort of anticipating Tamara Rojo to commission a new version any year now (purely my own speculation of course).

 

Also very interesting to hear Rojo is dancing Clara, I hadn't seen her cast to dance many of the big classics recently and wondered if she had basically retired from the Petipa canon. I've only seen her perform since she has lead ENB, but have greatly admired and loved her dancing whenever I've seen her. I've never seen her as the Sugar Plum Fairy, so if anyone would like to share their thoughts on her performance would love to hear them.

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On 15/12/2018 at 20:31, Darlex said:

Glad to hear they have a choir. Could swear they cut them (cost cutting presumably) at one stage. 

I believe the choir is made up of the children who have just been dancing onstage.

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Despite reservations seasoned balletgoers may have about Eagling’s “Nutcracker”, it has the power to enchant and engage children, as it did during the matinée on 19 December, when all the children around me, dressed in their Christmas finery, sat in rapt silence throughout.  And what a pleasure not to be surrounded by adults munching their way through crisps or sweets or swigging wine, as happened at so many of the performances of other ballets I saw on tour this autumn!  I did feel that the staging of both the skating scene and the party scene was rather lacking in ambience this year, with too much slapstick in the skating scene and a lack of genial elegance at the party, apart from the gracious hosts, James Streeter and Stina Quagebeur. This was not helped by the sluggish conducting of Orlando Jopling who failed to bring out the delicacy and magic of the score which I have heard so many times in the past from this superb orchestra.  I felt it most keenly in the short overture to Act II which is supposed to represent the journey to the Kingdom of Sweets.  As travel is by balloon in Eagling’s production, it most definitely felt like a lead balloon at this performance!  So I applaud those dancers who managed to give sparkling performances, in spite of this.  In particular, Anjuli Hudson, as Louise, and an uncredited Rentaro Nakaaki, as her suitor, brought great charm to their little pas de deux in the party scene, and Crystal Costa and Adela Ramirez were the most glittering of snowflakes, drawing in the audience with their radiant smiles and giving this beautiful (imported) choreography the touch of class it deserves.  Hudson also fluttered beautifully in Mirlitons, partnered by the benevolent Drosselmeyer of Daniel Kraus, and Daniel McCormick threw off a thrilling Russian dance.  New in the role to me was William Simmons as the Mouse King who gave a particularly stylish account of the choreography and had fun with the role without being too scary for the younger children in the audience.  But the stars of the show were most definitely the three leads, with Erik Woolhouse transcending his mask to bring a touching tenderness to the pas de deux for the Nutcracker and the enraptured Clara at the end of Act I and, with Kraus, partnering Clara so securely as to make the pas de trois at the start of Act II look effortless.  Ken Saruhashi was the handsome, very elegant Nephew and proved the perfect partner for the glorious Clara/Sugar Plum Fairy of Katja Khaniukova, both bringing a serene nobility and grandeur to the entrée of their grand pas de deux in Act II.  From her first entrance in Act I, I was entranced by Khaniukova’s exquisite footwork, making even something as deceptively simple as running across the stage look special.  She has the advantage of being perfectly believable as an adolescent girl, with a naturalness to her acting, especially her reactions to the fight between the mice and the soldiers.  As well as the tenderness of her pas de deux in Act I with the injured Nutcracker, Khaniukova brought such a soulfulness to her dancing here that it seemed Tchaikovsky’s music is part of her DNA.  I also loved her gracious use of the upper body and ports de bras, as well as her meltingly beautiful bourrées, particularly in her wonderfully delicate Sugar Plum solo.  She and Saruhashi pulled out all the stops in the coda with plenty of fireworks, including her impeccable series of single and double fouetté turns, yet always remaining the most serenely regal of couples. 

 

As I am writing this on 23 December, I would also like to mention that the lovely Connie Vowles gave her last performance with ENB this afternoon.  Her dancing has given me great pleasure in the two years she has been with the company, especially her delightful Lead Sylph in “La Sylphide” last season, and I wish her every success in the future.

 

 

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15 minutes ago, Irmgard said:

As I am writing this on 23 December, I would also like to mention that the lovely Connie Vowles gave her last performance with ENB this afternoon.  Her dancing has given me great pleasure in the two years she has been with the company, especially her delightful Lead Sylph in “La Sylphide” last season, and I wish her every success in the future.

 

Oh no! Do we know where she's going? (Sorry if I've missed some discussion about this.)

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After two days’ off following their run of double-performance days, the company looked revitalised and refreshed for their performance on Boxing Day to the delight of the capacity audience.  And if the music did not quite reach magical heights under the baton of Orlando Jopling, there were plenty of magical performances onstage.  I particularly liked Sophie Mucha as the young Clara.  I believe this must be at least her third season performing the role, her experience showing in her beautiful dancing and assured stage presence.  She is also not much shorter than Shiori Kase, as her grown-up counterpart, making the transition totally believable, as well as her young girl’s infatuation for the very gallant Nephew of Francesco Gabriele Frola.  It is always a delight to watch Alison McWhinney as Louise, the older sister, both in her charming pas de deux with suitor Skyler Martin and her deliciously delicate dancing in Mirlitons, partnered by the genial Drosselmeyer of James Streeter.  I was very happy to see the gorgeous Lead Snowflakes of Crystal Costa and Adela Ramirez again and, in fact, all the Snowflakes gave a scintillating account of the choreography, including beautiful legato ports de bras and footwork on the exiting step after their quicksilver dancing to the marvellously in-tune “Ah’s” of the choir. As Clara, Shiori Kase enchanted from her first entrance and, after battling with the wickedly mischievous Mouse King of Daniel Kraus, her pas de deux with her beloved Nutcracker, danced admirably by Daniel McCormick, was heartmeltingly beautiful.  Despite the rather plodding tempo taken for the pas de trois that opens Act II, Kase conveyed a wonderful sense of rapture during all the tricky partnering so securely done by Streeter and McCormick.  Then, as the Nutcracker transforms into the Nephew, Frola’s devastating smile was enough to light up the whole Coliseum.  The divertissements offered a Spanish dance of great panache by Jung Ah Choi, Anjuli Hudson and Pedro Lapetra, an exhilarating Russian dance from Ken Saruhashi and, despite the music being barely audible, Fabian Reimair channelling his “Golden Slave” to give a virtuosic turn to the Arabian dance, supported by a quartet of sultry harem ladies.  The tempo taken for the entrée of the grand pas de deux was ‘la plus que lente’ but Kase and Frola gave a sublime account of the choreography, both bringing a glittering majesty to it, with Kase’s innate musicality filling out the extended phrases with her graceful ports de bras and elegant line. I can give no higher praise to the marvellous partnering by Frola than to say that not once did I notice the mechanics of it. Kase’s Sugar Plum Fairy solo was a lovely confection of exquisite footwork and beautifully sustained balances and then both she and Frola were so electrifying in their series of pirouettes, fouetté turns etc. in the coda, that the audience burst into spontaneous applause long before they reached their final pose.  In all, an extremely enjoyable way to spend Boxing Day.

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I have included this feature on Jane Howarth in Today's Links.  She is talking about her 36 years of performing in Nutcracker with LFB/ENB.

 

Sunday Times

 

Jane has been with ENB for longer than I have been a serious ballet-watcher.  It has always been a joy to watch her performances; long may she continue.  (I thought she was a particularly fine Sylph).

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I attended the evening performance on December 20th with my daughters. We usually go to a matinee between Christmas and New Year, so it was interesting to note the different response from an evening pre-Christmas audience- it was noisier but in a very appreciative way. I saw the same main cast that Irmgard mentions above, and I would echo her comments about both Shiori Kase and Francesco Gabriele Frola. Shiori Kase was utterly beguiling from her first entrance and I was very moved by her pas de deux with the injured Nutcracker. Daniel McCormack was also excellent here, and I look forward to seeing more of his dancing. The grand pdd in Act 2 was another highlight for me, Frola dancing with great power and charisma and Shiori also dazzling. My daughters were extremely impressed with Sophie Carter as young Clara, her dancing was assured and enchanting. I have mixed feelings about the character dances in Act 2, but I was riveted by Fernanda Carratalá Coloma in the Spanish, and excited to see one of my favourite ENB dancers, Rina Kanehara, in the Chinese dance. The music, as ever, was wonderful. May I take this opportunity to highlight a wonderful piece from the Guardian, written seven years ago, but still available to read online, written by Gavin Plumley, about Tchaikovsky’s music for the Nutcracker. It perfectly explained for me why aspects of the music never fail to have me in tears! I’ll try to get a link to the article. So - overall, a lovely evening and I’m greatly looking forward to Swan Lake on the 11th Jan. Happy New Year to all.

 
Edited by alison
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Thanks JohnS, I hadn’t yet looked at all the TV and radio links so was not aware of this programme (I have the Radio Times double issue too, and have barely opened it!) I will listen to the programme this afternoon.

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On 23/12/2018 at 18:03, Lizbie1 said:

 

Oh no! Do we know where she's going? (Sorry if I've missed some discussion about this.)

I have just heard from Connie Vowles and she is happy for me to inform you on here that she is now dancing with Dutch National Ballet and loving it.

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I'm sure a lot of people will be pleased about that :) 

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