REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ – London Coliseum, Christmas 2018

 

Christmas at the London Coliseum means the return of English National Ballet’s Nutcracker, a festive favourite that is guaranteed to lift your spirits.

Nutcracker has been at the heart of English National Ballet’s repertoire since the Company was established in 1950. The current production, the Company’s tenth, dates from 2010. Made by then Artistic Director Wayne Eagling, with designs by Peter Farmer, this interpretation largely follows the traditional scenario but has a few unique flights of fancy mixed in too.

On Christmas Eve, young Clara and her brother Freddie enjoy a party with family and friends. Clara receives a Nutcracker doll as a present but, after a skirmish with jealous Freddie, the doll gets broken and has to be repaired by the mysterious Drosselmeyer. The party ends, the children are sent to bed and Clara has an action-packed dream in which her Nutcracker is attacked by an evil Mouse King. Departures from the traditional narrative in Eagling’s offering include the enchanting addition of a hot air balloon to whisk Clara and her Nutcracker away; horrifying giant mice invading scenes that are conventionally rodent-free; and a Puppet Theatre replacing the customary Kingdom of Sweets in Act Two.

English National Ballet’s talented dancers capture all the requisite wonder and magic of the Christmas staple. Having demonstrated in recent years that they are as adept in contemporary choreography from the likes of Akram Khan as they are in the classics, they assuredly keep this familiar ballet feeling fresh.

 

English National Ballet's Nutcracker hot air balloon

 

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REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘Manon’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2018

 

English National Ballet dances emotionally-charged choreography with seamless fluidity in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, bringing dazzling decadence, drama and despair to the stage.

The late British choreographer’s intense romance is a classic narrative ballet that is rarely performed regionally. In fact, English National Ballet’s current revival and tour of this MacMillan masterpiece is quite an occasion as the company is presenting it outside London for only the second time in thirty years.

Despite being created in 1974, the three-act tragedy remains a paragon of adult, dramatic dance. Inspired by Abbé Prévost’s notorious 1731 French novel Manon Lescaut and danced to the music of Jules Massenet, MacMillan’s Manon is a balletic interpretation of one of the earliest imaginings of a femme fatale. It boasts meaty principal roles, bustling crowd scenes and enthralling pas de deux highlights; all of which push the boundaries of what ballet is, and should be, to unashamedly explore the darker side of the human condition.

If you love ballet, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to experience Manon – and if you don’t think ballet is for you, it’s even more important to give this powerful production a go.

 

English National Ballet dancers in Kenneth MacMillan's Manon

 

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REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, November 2016

 

We might still be in November but Christmas is well and truly on its way now English National Ballet is delighting audiences with its dreamy Nutcracker at Milton Keynes Theatre.

Nothing gets me in the festive spirit quite like hearing the opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. There are many different versions of this seasonal ballet but the magical music is timeless and immediately evokes feelings of anticipation, enjoyment, excitement, adventure and beauty. Superbly played by English National Ballet Philharmonic, the familiar compositions envelop audience members in a blissful ballet bubble from the overture right through to the finale.

The company’s current Nutcracker, choreographed by Wayne Eagling, is wonderfully wintery and heart-warmingly whimsical. On a frosty Christmas Eve in Edwardian London a family hosts a celebratory get-together. Among the guests is Drosselmeyer, a magician and maker of toys, and his handsome nephew. Young Clara is besotted with the nephew and eagerly dances with him before receiving a painted wooden nutcracker soldier from the mysterious Drosselmeyer. Thrilled with the gift, Clara happily dances with her new doll until a scuffle with her brother Freddie results in the nutcracker being damaged. Fortunately, Drosselmeyer works his magic to fix the wounded toy before the children are sent off to bed. What happens next is a fanciful adventure. Clara encounters an evil Mouse King, battles with the Nutcracker against an army of mice and travels to the Land of Snow. Later, she is entertained by dancers from all over the world, presented with a pretty posy of waltzing flowers and comes of age dancing with her very own prince.

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English National Ballet dancers as Snowflakes in Wayne Eagling's Nutcracker.

 

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REVIEW: English National Ballet in Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ – Sadler’s Wells, November 2016

 

Incredible dancing. Intense storytelling. Totally immersive. English National Ballet’s new Giselle by Akram Khan is an epic dance experience. Everything about Akram Khan’s Giselle is so inspired that, after joining an elated audience in a lengthy standing ovation, I left Sadler’s Wells utterly convinced that no words will ever do this masterpiece justice.

The company, under the direction of Tamara Rojo, is intent on evolving the art of ballet. While still honouring the classical tradition (the dancers begin their Nutcracker season at Milton Keynes Theatre next week), English National Ballet is adding amazing diversity to its repertoire with fresh new works. Following the resounding success of Dust, his piece for the Lest We Forget programme, anticipation has been sky-high for Akram Khan’s Giselle.

In short, Akram Khan’s Giselle is a triumphant re-imagining of the 1841 Romantic Era ballet. All the essential themes – love, betrayal, revenge, the opposing realms of life and death – remain but Khan’s vision teases out the dark undertones that have always been there. Dragged to the surface, these elements are expressed with visceral urgency, arresting intent and harrowing sensibility.

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Akram Khan's Giselle publicity image of English National Ballet's artistic director and lead principal dancer Tamara Rojo.

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