The Nutcracker, English National Ballet, London Coliseum, London


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The Independent Culture

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is a muted production lifted by sparkling dancing. From stars Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová through to the corps of Snowflakes, the company dance with warmth and festive spirit.

Muntagirov has just been promoted to the special new rank of Lead Principal, recognising his starry status within the company. His dancing matches his new position, with flowing line and gorgeous phrasing. A soaring leap is followed by a luscious plié and delicately precise footwork: the steps pour out, without a break in the stream. Still very young, Muntagirov can show a touch of near-adolescent diffidence at the party, but partners Klimentová with adult tenderness.

When he changes from the Nutcracker into a prince, Klimentová watches with awed wonder, enchanted by the magic and by the person. Her own dancing is fresh and clear; she’ll slow deliciously and speed up with a flourish.

Wayne Eagling’s production, created in 2010, is getting more streamlined as it beds in. The party scene feels like a proper party. When Michael Coleman’s mischievous grandfather shows off a dance from an earlier generation, the other guests join in gradually, watching and picking up the steps until everybody’s dancing. Students from the Tring Park and English National Ballet Schools are spontaneous as they play and dance, oohing over new toys and rushing to join in the games.

The mouse battle is better, too, with faster pace and funnier jokes. The mice use a catapult to lob cheese at the toy soldiers; James Streeter’s Mouse King attacks with a swagger. The second act is now much simplified, dropping the confusing switches between Nutcracker and Prince have been dropped. There’s still a weird overtone to some of Eagling’s divertissement dances, with whips and slaves in the Arabian number. The finale needs tightening, with far too many scene changes for an underwhelming special effect.

Peter Farmer’s Edwardian designs lack light and air, with a dim, heavy quality to sets and costumes. The growing Christmas tree is unforgivably disappointing, though there’s a good magic balloon ride and a fine snowy forest. Benjamin Pope conducts an appealing performance of Tchaikovsky’s score.

The company are dancing well. Ksenia Ovsyanick floats and flutters as Clara’s sister Louise, while Jane Haworth is gracious as their mother. James Forbat is confident as the still-enchanted Nutcracker, with Fabian Reimair courtly as the magician Drosselmeyer. The Snowflakes whirl and jump with crisp attack, fingers pointed with frosty precision.

Until 5 January. Box office 020 7845 9300