sat 26/07/2014

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, London Coliseum | Dance reviews, news & interviews

The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, London Coliseum

A traditional 19th-century staging gets the blues with basement nightclub lighting

Daria Klimentova as Clara: when she melts into Nutcracker Vadim Muntagirov's hands, all seems right with the worldAll images Annabel Moeller/ENB

I don't want to get the blues at The Nutcracker of all ballets. It should be all snow and Christmas, flowers and presents, firelight, moonlight, candlelight and unearthly brilliance. What with the lush magic of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Nutcracker and the solemn rapture of the Royal Ballet one, English National Ballet have always had a daunting task to be both different enough and distinguished enough to compete, but their current one kills itself none too softly with its lighting.

Every few years their Christmas bankroller switches flavour and tone, and last year their joshing modern cartoon revision by Gerald Scarfe was replaced by a new staging that looked intent on being the perfect Victorian Christmas card, with iceskaters on the street and bustles in the costuming. But you couldn't see it in the ultraviolet gloom. For its second run this Christmas, could, would Wayne Eagling (ENB’s director) fix it?

Nutcracker Battle of Nutcracker and Mouse KingSad to say, last night its return to the Coliseum only emphasised how a decent production continues to feel as if it is pulling itself in two. The polite 19th-century-style designs of Peter Farmer can't live with the bruise-purple 21st-century nightclub lighting of David Richardson. Red-eyed raggedy rodents (pictured above) seem designed, properly and memorably, to be creatures of nightmare whom Clara and the Nutcracker will vanquish, yet they’re played for light laughs and make a general nuisance of themselves without obvious purpose. There are confusing substitutions and switches of nephews and Nutcrackers, of a young prepubescent Clara for a mature ballerina Clara. A pervy Arabian dance with whips follows a delightfully childish hot-air balloon ride. Contradictions everywhere, rather than harmony in the storytelling, harmony in the theatrical purpose.

First to fix should have been its lighting, which puts the chillers on the show, when the costumes and sets beg to be shown in all their prettiness in a feast of brightness or night shadows, not turned to general mouldy grey by the electronic blue overcast. One’s mood in the theatre is crucially directed by the artistry of the lighting, its emotional and narrative messages, its intimacy, underlining, distance, inclusiveness or isolation. There can be no dreams up there if the lighting designer hasn’t the eye to create them.

Another dampener is the wall of beige net curtain dropped over the front of the Christmas party, which turns Clara’s family party into a flat parade of sepia into which various nice contrivances, such as the puppet theatre and the magician Drosselmeyer’s tricks, vanish without significance. Get rid of the gauze! We want to feel part of the party!

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