Arts and Entertainment English National Ballet's 'The Nutcracker'

English National Ballet, London Coliseum

Ballet magnifies dancers' performance

THE ballerina Alexandra Foley shown larger than life through a special mirror while preparing for a performance of the English National Ballet production of X. N. Tricities, choreographed by the Italian Mauro Bigonzetti (left), writes David Lister.

Brand-new work for English National Opera takes shape at the London Coliseum

Amme-Marie Owens rehersing 'Blonde Eckbert', by Judith Weir, commissioned by English National Opera. It has its world premiere at the Coliseum in Loondon on Wednesday.

Classical Music / Update: Sign on the line

SPIT here, the opera-house billboards will say. There are doubtless good reasons for the new Signed Performances in Theatre organisation to use its acronym - such as opening sentences in news stories - but it's the work of SPIT that really catches the eye. It is a group of theatres, performing companies and other arts bodies which have linked up to spread and develop sign-interpreted shows for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

DANCE / Star-crossed and starry: Judith Mackrell on the English National Ballet's productions of The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet at the RFH

Every year, English National Ballet thumbs its nose at superstition by refusing to throw away its Christmas tree till long after Twelfth Night. At the Royal Festival Hall, London, the company's snow- and sugar- frosted production of The Nutcracker continues its annual run until 22 January, with a constantly changing roster of casts to keep the dancers sane.

Dance / Dance that passes the screen test

NO CONTEMPORARY dance fan needed to leave home last week - there was a festival on television. From Tuesday to Friday, BBC2 broadcast four specially commissioned films in its Dance for the Camera series. Not since the 1960s has the BBC commissioned dance films: it usually recasts dance created for the stage, such as DV8's Strange Fish, a separate project broadcast on Thursday. Dance for the Camera, is an acknowledgement of contemporary dance's burgeoning following: a recent survey reveals 100,000 more tickets were sold in 1993 than in 1992.

A critical Guide: Dance

English National Ballet (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 0602 482626, Tues to Sat). Ben Stevenson's Nutcracker.

Letter: An exercise in warming up

Sir: I would like to support the case made by Justin Howse regarding the need for warm air temperature for ballet dancers, following the cancellation of the English National Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker in Manchester (Letter, 2 December).

Letter: Temperature or temperament?

Sir: On Monday evening, my wife and I attended the Palace Theatre in Manchester, hoping to see a performance of The Nutcracker performed by the English National Ballet. At 8.14pm the performance was cancelled, because the temperature on stage was 'two degrees below what is considered safe to dance' (64F instead of 66F). If the dancers expected sympathy, they certainly did not get it from the capacity audience.

Cold ballet dancers strike over a question of degree

IT WAS exactly one degree colder than the Equity national ruling and the cast of The Nutcracker finally cracked. The Sugar Plum Fairy reached for her Equity rulebook and stood her ground. The Nutcracker Suite became the bitter suite.

Leading Article: Not dancing can also be dangerous

THE BALLET dancer's lot is not an enviable one. The level of fitness and physical flexibility required is daunting, even cruel. Gymnasts and figure skaters are subject to some of the same stresses, perhaps even more extreme in the case of gymnasts. But they are called on to perform for only a few minutes at a stretch. Ballet dancers are liable to be on (and off) stage for two to three hours if performing a three-act ballet. Their dancing careers average a mere 12 to 15 years after emerging from ballet school and the level of injuries, temporary and permanent, is high.

DANCE / Exit the ugly duckling: Judith Mackrell on two favourites of the classical repertoire

A FLOCK of girls in snowy white tutus, shimmering on point and pretending to be swans is everybody's first idea of ballet - and without Swan Lake in its repertoire no company can hope to please. This ballet must exist in more different productions than any other and for several years English National Ballet was saddled with one of the worst. Makarova's 1988 version took Swan Lake by the scruff of its neck. Wall-to-wall dance numbers with minimal characterisation squeezed out most of the story-telling while the traditional sets were replaced by a deadly efficient series of projected slides.

DANCE / Inspiration at the Kirov shrine

THE Kirov Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty has a character no other company is able to cast - the soul of the choreographer. Marius Petipa created the work for the company in 1890, nearly exhausting himself in the process, and on Thursday entered the production not as a fussing or clucking taskmaster but as a serene presence. From the prologue for the fairies to the final grand pas de deux, he was there in the astonishing variety of steps, the magical atmosphere and the purity of the Kirov style. A hundred years on, the Kirov remains the custodian of this great climax of 19th-century ballet.

DANCE / A troubled night's Sleep: Judith Mackrell on the English National Ballet's Savoy Suite at the Savoy Theatre

The newly restored interior of the Savoy Theatre is exquisite. Its burnished silver walls and deco bas reliefs gleam under a softly diffused light, deep crimson paint matches the variegated reds of the curtains and seats. The stage too is exquisite - and very small - which is both a help and a hindrance to English National Ballet as it launches its new London season on its boards.

DANCE / Lady of the house: Why is the Chairman of English National Ballet known as 'Hatchet Woman'? Judith Mackrell meets Lady Harlech

WHEN English National Ballet open at the Savoy Theatre tonight, it won't just be the dancers or the new repertoire that's under scrutiny. High on the list of the season's most gossipable items will be relations between Derek Deane, ENB's new Artistic Director, and Pamela, Lady Harlech, Chairman of the company's board.
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