Well, they’ve finished it. Last year, when Wayne Eagling unveiled his new Nutcracker for English National Ballet, it had visible rough edges: instead of coming to a conclusion, the finale just stopped.
The BBC documentary Agony & Ecstasy then showed the panics of getting a not-really-finished production to the stage. This time, Eagling's Nutcracker is a great deal tidier, and much more happily danced. On opening night, Daria Klimentová was radiant in the ballerina role, with other soloists giving boldly energetic performances.
Eagling’s production has cosy nostalgic surface, though its plot wanders off in unexpected directions. He and designer Peter Farmer set the story in Edwardian London, with party guests in ruffled frocks and evening dress. Skaters – in stage rollerblades – swoop on the frozen Thames outside the family home.
The Christmas party has a nice sense of anticipation, with excited children flocking together. Lowri Shone dances with bright personality as the young heroine Clara, delighted at the party and squabbling believably with her brother, danced by Rowan Shone. The magician Drosselmeyer, danced by Fabian Reimair, is a kindly uncle figure, giving friendly performances of magic tricks.
Eagling turns the story’s magic scenes into the Clara’s dream of adulthood. In her dream, the sleeping Clara becomes ballerina Daria Klimentová, who is then revealed as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
What happens to the Nutcracker is a great deal more confusing. The doll comes to life as dancer Junor Souza, turns into Drosselmeyer’s nephew, danced by Vadim Muntagirov. He spends the second act switching back and forth between the two, forever ducking behind curtains and reappearing as a different person in a different costume.
Eagling’s dramatic touches are often creepy. Clara’s big sister Louise fights off aggressive suitors at a party, while the Arabian dance inexplicably becomes a slave-driving number. Eagling’s choreography is efficient in classical style. The snowflakes clump noisily, but the other divertissements are performed with conviction and attack.
The production is lifted by its dancers. Souza gives a punchy performance as the Nutcracker, buoyant and confident despite his mask. Muntagirov soars through his steps, moving with clear line and unforced ease.
Klimentová is the star of this show. She dances with glowing confidence, purring through spins and darting through clean, light jumps. Her musical phrasing is almost flirtatious, finishing a phrase with a bright glance or a turn of the head. She sails through Eagling’s flashy additions to the grand pas de deux, a crystalline Sugar Plum.