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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during English National Ballet's dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker

 

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A flurry of sparkling snowflakes, a cascade of blossoming flowers and a colourful hot air balloon drifting skywards – English National Ballet’s Nutcracker proved the perfect antidote to a woefully wet and windy Saturday!

Christmas seems merely a dim and distant memory now that the sparkly decorations have come down and January has well and truly arrived. However, inside the London Coliseum theatre the magic of the Yuletide season lingers this weekend as the venue hosts the final performances in this run of the festive – and fantastical – ballet.

Wayne Eagling’s exuberant Nutcracker premièred in 2010 and is the 10th version to have been incorporated into English National Ballet’s repertoire since the Company was established in 1950. Of all the 19th Century ballets, Nutcracker is the one which is most often staged and interpreted in strikingly different ways. English National Ballet’s current production includes some wonderful moments which are full of timeless Christmas cheer and plenty of divine dancing.

 

ENB's Nutcracker - Shiori Kase as Clara - Photo by Jason Bell

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Swan Lake is the epitome of a bucket-list ballet and the English National Ballet production currently in residence at Milton Keynes Theatre is simply stunning.

I must confess to a great affinity for the perennially popular Swan Lake having learned a lot of the repertoire in workshops as a youngster; performed many of the roles in school shows and compulsively viewed countless versions in theatres, on television and online. The swell of the overture is enough to transfix me – listening to Tchaikovsky’s haunting score soothed this scholar during many years of revision throughout school and university. Together, the combination of story, music, choreography and staging makes the ballet a truly touching masterpiece.

Of course, possessing such zeal and knowledge means that with each cumulative performance of Swan Lake I am privileged enough to see, the potential to be disappointed grows. Fortunately, English National Ballet’s touring production had me enraptured on opening night. In fact, I swanned out of the auditorium appropriately moved by such an emotional evening and in awe of the incredible talent within the Company.

 

English National Ballet's Swan Lake dress rehearsal

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As an English National Ballet Dance is the Word writer, I was asked to write an article describing my experience of meeting other journalists, bloggers and writers and watching this year’s nominated Emerging Dancer competitors in rehearsal and performance.

My piece, Dance is the Word: An Inside Perspective, was featured on English National Ballet’s website as a post on their blog.

 

pointe shoes dancing writing dancing notepad

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YOUNG, TALENTED AND EMERGING

 

It can be hard for junior members of a ballet company to leave a lasting impression. Most of the dancers who reach the top companies will spend their career in the corps de ballet. This term (which literally means ‘body of the ballet’) refers to the dancers who generally work in a disciplined group, undifferentiated from each other. The objective is to blend in – not stand out.

Companies tend to grade their dancers (artist, first artist, soloist and first soloist, principal, lead principal) and nineteenth century ballets (which are still the foundation for most companies’ repertoire) were created to showcase those at the top of the hierarchy. Of course, talent does pay off and the most talented dancers will eventually receive promotion. However, for the public, opportunities to really see what junior artists are capable of are limited.

This is why English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer competition is so warmly received by balletomanes. The competition is an annual opportunity for English National Ballet to nurture and showcase the talent of its up-and-coming dancers.

 

English National Ballet 'Emerging Dancers': Vitor Menezes,

English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer participants for 2014: (l to r) Vitor Menezes, Junor Souza, Alison McWhinney, Senri Kou, Joan Sebastian Zamora and Madison Keesler (Photo by Laurent Liotardo)

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