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.
Even Shakespeare’s cruel twists of fate are powerless to dampen the blazing passion of English National Ballet’s current Romeo & Juliet.
Undeniably the world’s greatest love story, the tragedy is eternally destined to be an audience-pleaser and Milton Keynes Theatre was packed on opening night for the touring revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s 1977 interpretation. Originally created for the Company in celebration of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, this sumptuous production intensifies the tale of two star-crossed lovers by frequently emphasising the notion of human weakness; ominously accentuating the brutality of Renaissance Verona; and boldly challenging the dancers with demanding, multifaceted, choreography.
Contrasts command much clout in any Romeo & Juliet. The opposition of the two rival families. The hustle and bustle of the swarming marketplace juxtaposed against the serenity of the moonlit trysts in the garden and at the chapel. The differences between idealistic Romeo and passive Paris as they vie for Juliet’s attention. Still, what really stands out in this version is how the spectacle of impressive leaps, turns and lifts can be impeccably matched by the potency of far more natural human movement – a glance, a touch, a kiss. Nureyev’s staging manages to develop all of the characters and provide further insight into several relationships, balancing the brilliance and bravado of ballet with a depth of drama befitting of the Bard’s prose.
Christmas is a time for magic and nothing is more magical than a trip to the ballet.
With a plethora of pantomimes on offer at the moment, those seeking alternative festive fare should pirouette their way to the capital to see English National Ballet’s stylish Nutcracker. Currently captivating audiences at the London Coliseum, this is the perfect seasonal tale for all the family.
Former Artistic Director Wayne Eagling’s interpretation of the timeless classic is set in a frost-covered Edwardian London winter, on an enchanted Christmas Eve.
Anticipation is in the air as Clara and her brother Freddie prepare for their family’s Christmas party. The Christmassy scene is set with some clever ice skating and the children attending the matinee performance are transfixed from this point on.
Festive treat: English National Ballet’s Nutcracker (photo by Guy Farrow and Patrick Baldwin)