Bring on the sweet trolley : DANCE

Christmas ballets London
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The Independent Culture
No city deserves to be lumbered with more than one Nutcracker at Christmas, yet this year no fewer than three have come to London. Hot on the heels of Matthew Bourne's candy-striped confection for Adventures in Motion Pictures, last week both Engl ish National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet launched Nutcrackers that continue into January.

At the Festival Hall, ENB has unpacked Ben Stevenson's serviceable but undistinguished version for a fourth consecutive year, while BRB is at the Coliseum for its first London performances of Peter Wright's Nutcracker. Of the two productions, Wright's o f fers a more ordered and sumptuous stage picture, largely due to John Macfarlane's magnificent designs. His draped burgundy drawing-room captures all the traditional bourgeois comfort that precedes Clara's journey. Next to such confident design, DesmondH eeley's decor for Stevenson's Nutcracker look makeshift and garish.

Decor aside, both versions pick up marks for their coherent adaptation of Hoffmann. Stevenson has a more conventional take on Clara and Fritz, the brother / sister age gap smaller than in Wright's production. In the latter, Clara (Sandra Madgwick) is an

adolescent ballet student, an overgrown child whose interest in her dance partner doesn't quite tally with her love of dolls. But Sebastian Loe's Fritz proves that young children on the ballet stage can be spirited and intelligent rather than twee. Loe'sFritz is far preferable to the adult bully boy of Stevenson's version.

Stevenson populates the Stahlbaum house with caricatures: hyperactive youngsters, lusty oldies etc. And having thus diminished Clara's real world, he proceeds to some unimaginative variations on the foreign dances in which Alice Crawford's Clara unconvincingly delights.

By contrast, the Clara of Wright's Nutcracker eagerly attempts to integrate with the exotica around her - guided by Joseph Cipolla's charismatic Drosselmeyer. But while the themes of magic and discovery are more pronounced in Wright's production, Steven s on's Nutcracker is no less effective than Wright's when it comes to Ivanov's pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince. Like BRB's Miyako Yoshida, partnered by a guesting Irek Mukhamedov, ENB's Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur can be relied up on to deliver the goods. Their dancing is a pristine celebration of sparkling formality which happily detracts from the production's choreographic weaknesses.

At Covent Garden, the Royal Ballet has plumped for Ashton's Cinderella, and in last week's opening performance, Viviana Durante's properly timorous Cinderella, couldn't have hoped for a more attentive Prince than Bruce Sansom. As fairy-tale ballets go, this is one of the best - a more coherent fantasy than any Nutcracker, with a score as poignantly illuminating as Tchaikovsky's.

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