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December 12, 2013 11:45 pm
The Nutcracker is inescapably among us with all its varied delights, from the Christmas party and a children’s choir fudging top notes in the Snowflakes scene, to a Danse Arabe which goes interminably on, and the bright ring of the celesta for the Sugar Plum Fairy’s solo – and the misplaced optimism so often accompanying the ballerina’s double gargouillade, a brilliant and complicated step lying in wait for her. At Covent Garden, Peter Wright’s staging, unrivalled in means and in Julia Trevelyan Oman’s design, returned in good form last week, despite a musical performance that undervalued Tchaikovsky’s prodigious score. The Stahlbaums’ party was merrily proper (and Johannes Stepanek made the Captain a vivid portrait of elegant manners, unforced charm).
Meanwhile English National Ballet began its traditional London season with Wayne Eagling’s version, decent in most things save for the tasteless Danse Arabe and a distinctly meagre Christmas tree. At Covent Garden the event was memorable thanks to Laura Morera, whose Sugar Plum was noble in manner, and boasted the grand effects that such illustrious ballerine as Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova and Zhanna Ayupova once showed me. Here was grace of means that understood the mysteries of the music for the sublime final pas de deux. (Tchaikovsky composed it having just heard of his beloved sister’s death: the metre in the descending scale of its opening theme is that of the Orthodox Rite’s prayer for the dead.) We can believe in Morera as we believe in the world that the staging proposes.
I also believed totally in Daria Klimentová as expressive artist in ENB’s staging. Here is a ballerina who is “bien dans sa peau”, not just – as the words suggest – at ease in her professional skin, but secure in her artistry. There is a rewarding inevitability in her performance – “thus and not otherwise” – as she takes us on that happy journey to the final curtain. With Vadim Muntagirov she finds a sympathetic partner. Despite his quaint jerkin, a confection of nasty brocade suitable for Quasimodo’s appearance in a TV dance show, Muntagirov shows us beautiful classic dance, an identity of winning directness and power. (In this he matches Klimentová, who denies any personality cult by her sweetness of means.) This ENB staging offers eager performance from the company, sound musical response to Tchaikovsky, all the seasonal predictabilities. Here, as at Covent Garden, things are exactly as it says on the packet.
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