As the holiday season winds down and 2011 nears its end, there are still Nutcrackers being performed around the globe. One of them, notably, is by the English National Ballet where Venus Villa and Yonah Acosta debut The Nutcracker newest version by Wayne Eagling at the London Coliseum.
Venus Villa and Yonah Acosta debut The Nutcracker
The opening scene, with the young Clara in her bedroom on Christmas Eve, watching the snow falling outside which quickly becomes a curtain of snow over the entire stage, is charming and sets the tone for the rest of the ballet. Peter Farmer’s elegant Edwardian London sparkles as the perfect backdrop. The Christmas tree is still a work in progress, though by the time of its transformation it more closely resembles the set design of the fir trees in winter by Mikhail Bocharov than you’ll see in other productions.
Ice-skaters glide along the frozen Thames as the party guests arrive along with Drosselmeyer (in Hoffman’s story he lives outside time and is very sage) and his nephew (Daniel Jones and Yonah Acosta). Jones inhabits the character and gives him musicality; during the party scene his piano playing must surely have rivalled Mozart – had we heard it. It’s not long before Drosselmeyer, dressed in a powdered white wig and bronze tights, is setting fire to a handkerchief and introducing a giant puppet theatre to entertain the guests with his magical tricks.
As with the audience on a family friendly matinee, it’s not long before the small children are excited and over-wrought in equal measure, squabbling over the Nutcracker doll given to Clara, which you know is going to break. Drosselmeyer is on hand to mend the doll, and once the party is over, Clara returns to her bedroom to dream. As she does so, midnight strikes and her dream becomes a nightmare as the Mouse King looms over her bed and wakes her. Her first thought is to find the Nutcracker doll, as the mice gather and the living room is transformed.
This is where we first see Venus Villa, in her debut as Clara, terrified but bravely fighting with the mice and trying to protect the Nutcracker, who is injured in the fighting. More mice appear with a giant mousetrap and throw cheese at the soldiers. There are galloping horses, gunshots and smoke.
In the English National Ballet’s version, Drosselmyer’s nephew (not Clara’s younger brother Fritz) turns into the Nutcracker in Act I and is later transformed into her Prince (or Cavalier), danced by Yonah Acosta in Act II.
Villa & Acosta dazzle in their gold and white finery, she in a tutu dripping with Swarovski elements, and they dance a technically difficult pas de deux with plenty of attack overlaid with a velvety softness, flowing with the music and the beautiful Celesta*. Villa is like a lighthouse, beaming out through any amount of fog. Though she is tiny she shines so fiercely on stage that even the furthest corners of the auditorium glow, in a way that Acosta is still learning. Villa dances with all her heart and really cares about the characters around her – the way she interacts with them is very touching. Surely she is due a promotion ? Acosta has the technical facility and is an attentive partner. Both were nervous and the vast stage of the Coliseum isn’t for the feint-hearted but they grew into their partnership.
In this review you can see that there have been many versions of The Nutcracker. How each version came to be and the history behind this ballet has always fascinated me.
This most recent staging by the ENB brings new life to the ballet. One interesting difference stands out: at the end of Act I, Clara and The Nutcracker exit in a hot air balloon!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Venus Villa and Yonah Acosta debut of The Nutcracker. What are you thoughts on newer versions of this ballet? Do you like the traditional staging of Tchaikovsky’s ballet? Or are you open to new interpretations? We value your opinions, so please click Share and comment below.
Thanks and happy holidays!