Opposite Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, on the plaza in front of St George’s Hall, a Christmas market has installed itself for the festive season. Faux-chocolate box wooden chalets attempt an old-school Alpine vibe, which is competing valiantly for supremacy with an outsized, neon-lit Ferris wheel and an over-enthusiastic PA system with a penchant for Tina Turner’s Proud Mary. Inside the theatre, however, there is no doubting that Christmas Past has won the day over Christmas Present, at least for the next few days.
The English National Ballet is in town with an opulent and traditional rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker that does everything one would hope and expect of such a production. Here we have big sets – Clara’s draped living room, the magical puppet theatre – elaborate costumes and nothing to scare the horses. The ENB’s last foray into the north west, to wow Manchester audiences with Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella just last month, was a new adaptation with a modern, Matthew Bourne-esque spike to the fairytale splendour. There’s little of that in The Nutcracker, which has been running in this Wayne Eagling-choreographed iteration since 2010 and is the ENB’s 10th version of the box office banker.
At times, by contrast with Cinderella, it feels a touch saccharine and unreconstructed. The lurid pink costumes of the ‘flowers’ in act two gave the appearance that these athletic young women had been dressed up somewhat like five-year-old girls, while the actual children, a vital part of The Nutcracker who did their job admirably, were sweet rather than exciting to watch. But such nit-picking is really to judge this production by the wrong standard. This is not a show that people come to see in order to be challenged, but to be wrapped in a blanket of sequins, snowflakes and familiar tunes. On that score it delivers in spades, and in fact there were some moments of electrifying dance too, particularly in the final pas de deux, in which American guest artist Brooklyn Mack was dynamically athletic as the nephew, hurling Shiori Kase’s delicate Clara into the air as if it were she rather than the nutcracker that was the toy.
We will forgive the stereotyping of the international dance-off between supposedly Spanish, Russian, Arabian and Chinese performers. We will forgive the pink dresses. It’s Christmas, and this is old-fashioned artistry and festive spirit of a kind you’re unlikely to find in a prefab Alpine chalet.
Photos by Laurent Liotardo