By Jenna de Beer
There is something very special about watching The Nutcracker at Christmas and Hong Kong Ballet has succeeded in bringing some festive cheer to Hong Kong with their annual staging of this traditional ballet. Whilst the story and choreography included unexpected nuances which were not so well received, the powerful and crisp Hong Kong Sinfonietta – paired with outstanding performances from specific members of Hong Kong Ballet – made this production a festive season must see.
Being such a popular production, the Nutcracker becomes unique and specific to the company which is staging it. This is undoubtedly true for the Hong Kong version. Swaying from traditional choreography and storytelling by ETA Hoffmann, this performance was choreographed specifically for Hong Kong Ballet by Australian Terence Kohler who worked with fellow Australian Clair Sauran as both Dramaturge and Creative Consultant. This amalgamation of creativity produced new movement and new characters whilst still being set to the timeless elegance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s intense and revered score.
What was most different about the production was the storyline. Traditionally, Uncle Drosselmeyer presents Clara with a Nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve who then comes to life in her dream and takes her on a winter wonderland adventure through the night. This version sees Drosselmeyer presenting Clara with a large dollhouse which she and Fritz are drawn into. This plot change allows Fritz to have a more significant role in the ballet, and the partnership of Clara and Fritz performed by Dong Ruixue and Shen Jie was most enchanting.
It does raise a question, however, as to whether the ballet should still be called “The Nutcracker”, when the role of the Nutcracker doll is significantly less important than in more traditional versions. The Rat and Soldier battle in Act 1 was well staged and another interesting surprise was the removal of the bodies after the battle.
The intricacy of Kohler’s choreography was most harmonious with the music in Act 2, Scene 2 where there is a celebration of the Christmas dolls’ freedom. Most poignant was that of the Egyptian Duet which was expertly choreographed and exoticallyexecuted by Gao Ge and Lucas Jerkander. The Russian Dolls, danced by Jessica Burrows and Shunsuke Arimizy received great applause for their performance too.
A most important trait of The Nutcracker, and one which lends itself to the familial orientation of the ballet, is that of its use of young dancers in training. The children were expertly groomed and rehearsed and it was so rewarding to see so many young dancers of such a high standard performing alongside professionals. An additional character specific to this version of the ballet is that of Clärchen, Clara’s favourite doll. The beautiful Li Ling Tuen, who plays the doll, captured the heart of every audience member with her intricate technical footwork as well as her mature stage presence beyond her years. The trio of Clara, Fritz and Clärchen remained present throughout, forming the glue which bound the production together.
The traditional ballets come to a climax during the Grand Pas de Deux. Unfortunately, the change in choreography created somewhat of an anticlimax given that the traditional choreography is both flawless and timeless.
The strength and prowess of the orchestra is an integral part of any ballet and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, conducted by Philip Ellis, executed Tchaikovsky’s timeless score beautifully. It is the music which leads us to create movement and, what makes the classic ballets so important, is that the music was created specifically for the emotion and movement required by the original choreographers. It was most impressive to see a culmination of new and intuitive choreography paired with Tchaikovsky’s traditional composition.
The Nutcracker is one of the most exciting stage performances of a full-length ballet with its magical scenery, marvelous costumes and the warmth of Christmas. Initially disappointed that this interpretation was not in keeping with the traditional ballet in all its glory, the second act showcased some exquisite talent and innovative ideas. This, paired with the crispness of the orchestra, made for a wonderful family-orientated performance, full of Christmas merriment – a treat for old and young alike.
The Nutcracker runs until December 27th. Tickets start from $180, available via URBTIX.