I derive very real pleasure from the dancing of Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov, and they led the opening performance of English National Ballet’s Nutcracker. Little further needs be said about the lure of the title at this time of year but Wayne Eagling’s staging and Peter Farmer’s Edwardian designs are full of narrative ideas and new tricks, and they will do very well. If you take the young to see it, though, make them read the story in the programme.
Me? I watched the party in the first act and realised it might be a surrealist testament from the 1930s. If, perchance, you know Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de bonté, a wild pseudo-narrative made from a compilation of doctored cut-out images from magazines of the 1890s, you will find that the first act, with its bourgeois family party, its invasion by rats, its oddly transmuted bodies and personalities, is ripest if unwitting surrealism. The sedate setting, the manic activities of some guests and their curiously dark and disjunct behaviour – who is that tipsy and kilted Scot? Why is this mock-baronial residence so ill-lit, and that little boy so vivacious, and what is that deranged diplomat doing, and wherefore giant rats in a girl’s bedroom? – suggest dream-world narrative toppling into mania.
I love this unreality, salute the company artists, regret the choir of children who keen through the snowflakes scene (boy choristers from the Imperial Chapel in St Petersburg were the original singers) and hang on for the great pas de deux. Here, Muntagirov and Klimentová are splendid. (She would be more so if she abandoned her powdered-down shoes and allowed satin to reflect the light and bring brighter definition to steps.)
This version of the duet is over-complicated: my early and sublime Sugar Plums were Markova and Danilova, who did not need to climb Everest to persuade us that they were great ballerinas, and Klimentová is too fine an interpreter, too musical and too felicitous in manner, to have to negotiate the obstacles of this assault course. Muntagirov, elegant, charmingly unfazed by deathtrap steps, is handsome, attentive, easy master of his choreography, a prince, a treasure.