Review: English National Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

The Nutcracker is well-established in its ability to bring festivity, an iconic score, and mesmerising dancers to the stage for a captivating two hours. 

The first performance at The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton was no exception, bringing vibrancy and class with a contemporary Christmassy spin. 

The show began with the setting of a classic Christmas scene, with ice skaters frolicking playfully amongst a snowy backdrop. 

Something striking from the very beginning of the performance was the youthfulness of the cast and overall production, yet remained wise and classic. 

A small cast of children opened the first few scenes of Act I, bringing with them the perfect balance of adolescence and nostalgia, complimenting the underlying maturity throughout the show.

This feature made the performance relatable and engaging for everyone watching, young and old. 

Not only was the child ensemble remarkable, but the general cast ensemble transformed into a weightless flurry of net skirts and impressive lifts. 

The English National Ballet company’s ease with which they sailed across the stage makes the complexity and skill with which every movement is made, almost unfathomable to the untrained eye. 

The early ballet dancing is of course breathtaking, but what will stop you in your tracks is the entrance from the mice. 

Mouse King (Image credit: English National Ballet)

The jerky juxtaposition of the mice’s contemporary and modern dance weaved fluently with the grace and effortlessness of the ballet.

Coupled with their huge costume heads and comically long tails, the mice provided the comedic energy nobody knew they needed in a classical ballet performance. 

Clara was played by Fernanda Oliviera, a Brazilian dancer who joined the ENB in 2000, and her impressive previous repertoire did not disappoint.

Throughout her complicated combinations, there were freeze-frames of tight arabesques, graceful lines, and perfectly poised arm positions.

Oliviera engaged in a romantic pas de deux with the Nutcracker, danced by Henry Dowden, which was sleek and captivating. 

Fernanda Oliveira as Clara (Image credit: English National Ballet)

The show contained an array of full circle moments, with playful features returning during the final scenes, 

The fantasy world created really acted as an escape from the cold Wednesday evening outside the theatre doors, and contained an array of full circle moments – with playful early features returning during the final scenes. 

As with any classical ballet, the element of storytelling was crucial to get right.

Bowden, in his role as the Nutcracker, did exactly that.

Amongst an abundance of breath-taking tours en l’air, Bowden used his talented musicality to convey the plot of the festive performance. 

Aitor Arrieta as Nephew (Image credit: English National Ballet)

Speaking of musicality, it is impossible not to mention the unbelievable orchestra who brought the whole show together, and really allowed every character to shine amongst gorgeous notes and harmonies.

Something so striking to me was every fouetté turn being caught on beat to the music – a real show of unity between the conductor and dancer. 

My favourite moment, although hard to choose, had to be the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, during which you could hear a pin drop throughout the entirety of the theatre.

To command the silence of a 2,300 capacity theatre is something few performances can do, but the cast and company of the English National Ballet certainly can. 

Whether you’re a ballet regular, or the magical world of dance is totally new to you, this performance is for you. 

Catch the English National Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at the London Coliseum from 14th December to 7th January.

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