The Nutcracker – English National Ballet -Rojo, Gouneo, Westwell – January 2 2016

Once more Eagling’s production charmed its audience. And I was – with a few minor reservations – included.

With ENB’s boss Tamara Rojo cast as Clara, the matinee seemed in sure hands. Things went a bit awry during the snowball throwing moments, a particularly bouncy and stubborn snowball just kept on returning to the stage, as if unwilling to leave the spotlight. (It was probably on loan from the Bolshoi theatre). That said, the skating clowning was the best I have seen it, but by God, falling like that every day and night must take it’s toll. Bravi to the intrepid skaters.*

The interior scenes were well handled, and I very much enjoy the conceit of the freezeframe at the start of the Act. The youngsters of the Tring Park School once more showed their mettle, and as before a tiny minor flub or two in the “ring-a-roses” type pattern, but crikey, how they manage to do the intricate weaving in and outs without bashing into each other I’ll never know. (I can’t even waltz.) I have no doubt some fine talent has been picked and their talents can only grow as they get older. Chief among them Sereina Mowlem (young Clara) and Seamus McIntosh (young Freddie). Miss Mowlem took her tiny variation with the Nutcracker with facility and great precision – impressive from one so young. I liked Master McIntosh’s acting, it was rather more subtle than from other young men I have seen do it, and in fact, to the better.

I am still unsure of the exact species of rodentia populating this precise ballet (I am no zoologist) – i.e. if the bulk are mice, nor why, if the vassals are mice, why a rat would decide to rule mice, but no matter, the moment the first rodent appears is a glorious one, and cleverly done. I’ll never not like it. Paired with the music, it is one of the strongest moments in Eagling’s creation. To see it as a child must be magical. So too the leaving of the Kingdom of Sweets, in reality Clara being borne aloft and spun round and round as a gauze curtain falls and the stage darkens (perhaps loosely modeled on the Bolshoi’s venerable production of the same moment,) works spendidly too – but I am getting ahead of myself.

The family scenes went by pleasantly – doddery Grandmother (Amber Hunt) a bit over the top, but in a panto-way entertaining. The puppet box magically started without James Streeter‘s Drosselmeyer at the controls, but distinguised itself with a mimed, and from behind the box, clearly audible smacker of a kiss between Nutcracker and Princess, and the “Scotsman/Rat King mimer” was once more impressive, though sadly I can’t credit the dancer due to the ENB cast slips being deficient in information – or TheOperatunist being deficient in mentation. Probably the latter.

By contrast the actual National Variations and some of the star turns seemed a little hurried and loose around the edges. Perhaps the New Year break hadn’t helped some of the cast. There was quite a lot of the usual cast-shuffling too, replacements in the Spanish, Chinese, etc, which can’t have helped. So by contrast with my last viewing, these dances didn’t quite zing or bustle as they should – and yes, the Arabian is not a zinger, but Junor Souza did a grand job of being rather serious in what is here [and in the NYCB production – I shall (sadly) never forget Amar Ramansar’s gold miniskirt in that production…] rather an archly camp moment. And really, who could compare with future star Cesar Corrales in the Trepak? Pedro Lapetra came out all guns blazing, but Corrales is that dance’s master and the dance (perhaps dance full stop?) his servant.

And now to the stars: Tamara Rojo was convincing in acting fearful and distraught at the mice, and her relief at seeing Nutcracker (“saved! by my prince!”) was lovely to watch. Her protracted rescue with Max Westwell as partner looked slightly more effortful in places than I would have liked, and this in fact coloured their whole partnership and some of his moments alone*. (I think partnering one’s boss would do that to a guy!) Nevertheless Rojo’s interpretation was graceful, and her use of hands and arms particularly effective. Mention must be made of her fantastic fouettes, rock solid, centre stage, and peppered with triples and doubles as if they were the easiest thing in the world. So too in her “Sugarplum Variation” Rojo’s vast experience came to the fore. Excellent musicality (the hands shaping and accenting phrases) mixed with precision of technique to give great clarity. Below the wasist, great control, and above it, a flow and thread of motion beautifully controlled and effortless in appearance. She quietly seized, and then held our attention. When it came to the various chaine of turns, Ms Rojo once more whirled them offwith ease. Well worth the ticket price for such a display of mature, hard-won, yet lightly worn craftsmanship.

Lauretta Summerscales (again, needing confirmation on ID, as the cast sheet doesn’t list her, and curiously omits some key cast members,) gave us a “Reed Flute Fairy” of fluttering hands, beautiful symmetry of line (and feet) delightful coordination and somehow, incredibly, almost conscious control of the gauzes and floating fabric she trailed behind her. She is an artist of the first order, and only gets better.

In his partnering of Rojo, Osiel Gouneo was chivalrously attentive and also remarkably smiley. Lancing grand tours which dominated the stage and tidy jumps and landings set off his solo variations in the Grand Pas. Curiously, the audience did not applaud right near the close of that piece as is often the case, but their appreciation was no less the louder when the section really did end. Some stunts never fail.

Gavin Sutherland’s baton brought out the ENB Philharmonic’s usual high quality of sound. They are truly a first rate outfit. The “journey music” was a little slower than when I heard it last with Misato Tomita at the helm and some sections could have wanted more shading, but in the louder moments, the “Tree Growing Music”, the Grand Pas, and too in quieter sections – the revelation of the wounded Nutcracker for instance – the quality of the band shone through. What an asset to the organisation. Tchaikovsky’s music never fails to enchant, and my heart was stirred anew throughout.

 

NOTES

* and the kid behind me was rather announcing “they’re ice skating!” and his sister askingg “why is he dancing alone?”at the Nephew’s solo and “why are we seeing this bit again?” when some Flower Waltzers re-emerged. And the young boy behind my took great pride in announcing “it’s a balloon. They’ll fly in a balloon.” In fact, they didn’t stop talking throughout, but that’s matinees for you. In fact, the young man said his favourite bit was the battle between rodents and soldiers, which other reviewers have said their little ones, or those around them, or they themselves, declared tame. I think it went rather well in this performance.
* Max Westwell was in addition (if I recall the change notice correctly) called upon not only to Nutcrack, but to Mirliton, and that long skirted costume nearly became his undoing as he caught his foot somehow in the hem when coming on from the wings, and stumbled. He recovered well. And if it was not Westwell, apologies. And if Streeter, the same; well recovered.

 

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4 comments

  1. I have read several of your dance reviews and like the detail and tone of them very much. You identify and appreciate all that is well done in a performance and any criticisms are expressed very delicately. A few critics could take a leaf out of your book, as could I, probably!

    I saw that matinee performance as well. When Tamara looked out at the auditorium in wonder at the beginning of Act 2 she was probably wondering why she could see the audience in the upper circle (the lights were up for the first ten minutes or so).

    Here’s to watching plenty of great dance in 2016!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, and for reading my thoughts, Aileen. I am delicate with criticism mainly because on one review I did, I was not, and the director read it and messaged me quite upset. Legitimately so. I have decided that if something is minor,to maybe not mention it, and if noticeable then to be delicate! Didn’t realise the house lights were on by the way! Must have been a bit odd for her! Did you enjoy the show on the whole?
      And yes, may 2016 bring more dance joys to us both 🙂

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      1. Yes, I did enjoy the performance although I don’t find Tamara a natural in the role (despite her astonishing fouettés). I prefer a more crystalline SPF. Max is one of the most reliable partners in the company (so it’s no surprise that he was Tamara’s partner) but I felt that he wasn’t at his absolute best on Saturday. The choreography for the Nutcracker is demanding anyway but it must be made even more difficult by that large, unwieldy mask, which all the men seem to struggle with to some extent, unsurprisingly. The music seemed a tad too slow to me through much of the performance, which affected the pace of the action a bit, I felt. I was interested to see Gouneo. He’s a nice dancer and I look forward to seeing him again in a very different role in a couple of weeks time. I’ve seen this Nutcracker quite a few times now. It has some major flaws but some nice touches as well. I feel that, with Alina’s injury, Fernanda’s absence and Erina, Isaac and Ksenia all guesting during the Nutcracker season, the company has been stretched thin this year. You need a lot of senior dancers to cover so many performances in such a short time, particularly on the male side as Drosselmeyer is a dancing role in this version. I hope that everyone is healthy in time for Corsaire.

        It was odd to have the lights up at the beginning of Act 2. It must have been distracting for the dancers during that tricky trio. However, they have probably had to deal with far worse.

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      2. I agree about Mr Westwell, as you can tell! Something indeed didn’t go too well for him. And as you say, the mask is a real hindrance. I could feel that they were being pushed hard.

        I have Alina booked for Corsaire but I don’t imagine she will be fit for it, sadly.

        And yes, that trio does look tough – and a bit ungainly in moments. I am not its biggest fan, but as you say, it has nice touches, in a show with more than a few of those touches. I am fairly easily pleased! Give me enough small moments and I often forget about other issues :p

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