The weather might be unseasonably warm and the news unspeakably grim, but English National Ballet’s Nutcracker ameliorates all that – at least for a couple of hours.
Wayne Eagling’s production, from 2010, has its creaky moments, and less felicitous choreography than you’d find at Covent Garden, but it’s danced with heart and humour, buoyed by crisp, clean playing from the orchestra under Gerry Cornelius’ baton.
In this version, there’s no separation of principal roles: the ballerina is both ingenue Clara and Sugar Plum Fairy, making a tough transition from dreamy girlhood to queenly maturity and classical precision (while the Nephew takes on corresponding duties). It’s a massive feat of stamina. Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta (both first soloists) show some understandable signs of strain, especially in the big lifts, but they acquit themselves admirably overall. There’s plenty to enjoy from the rodent ranks too – Daniel Kraus is a scene-stealer as a sassy rat chieftain, whose scuttling army deploys a mousetrap refashioned as a catapult to fire cheddar chunks into the fray.
Elsewhere, the corps of 16 Snowflakes dance with the briskness of a Baltic breeze, lead with crystalline clarity by Francesca Velicu and Julia Conway. Junor Souza makes an affable Drosselmeyer, while Isabelle Brouwers responds with wittily placed butterfly flutters to the Mirliton flute solo. While there’s roistering bravado in Act II’s Russian dance, the Spanish divertissement has particular pizazz, especially when suave Barry Drummond hoists senoritas Carolyne Galvao and Amber Hunt aloft simultaneously, like a matador-mule with the most elegant of saddlebags.