Review: The Nutcracker (2012), Scottish Ballet

The Nutcracker, Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, review

It is three years since Scottish Ballet’s last outing of this Nutcracker, but it has lost none of its charm, humour or vitality, writes Mark Brown.

The first Christmas show of recently appointed Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson’s reign is a revival of his predecessor Ashley Page’s much-loved choreography of The Nutcracker (the world première of Hampson’s own Hansel and Gretel will be staged in Glasgow this time next year). It is three years since the last outing of this Nutcracker, and it has lost none of its charm, humour or vitality.Nutcracker 2012 SB

Page’s choreography is based not upon Alexandre Dumas’s version of the tale (as was the original ballet by Tchaikovsky and Petipa), but upon the earliest telling of the story by German author ETA Hoffmann. Relocated to troubled Weimar Germany, this invocation of the tempestuous imaginings of little Marie Stahlbaum makes very definite sense in our own uncertain times.

In Marie’s mind the Christmas toys (a mouse glove puppet; wooden soldiers; the grand, military nutcracker himself) come to disquieting life. Even her austere governess is transformed into the frightening queen of the mice, Mouserink.

The element of psychological strangeness in the piece is given fabulous visual expression in Antony McDonald’s set and costume designs. Huge, monochrome cartoons (a hand holding a pocket watch; a terrifyingly massive mouse; Tchaikovsky himself) make, variously, disconcerting and humorous appearances. The nutcracker and the mice of Marie’s imagination are nightmarishly masked. Thus is the seeming tranquility of the Stahlbaum family Christmas called into question.

However, if the piece has a superb grasp of the darker side of Hoffmann’s tale, it is equally accomplished in its staging of the many lighter moments. The delightful ensemble dances of the snowflakes and the flowers are here in all their classical beauty. The dances of the nations (Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and France), which are performed to some of the most famous parts of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score, play to old stereotypes with colourful vigour and a knowing, 21st-century wit.

For all of its choreographic and visual inventiveness, this ballet has a respectful understanding of the fact that the ultimate centre piece of The Nutcracker, from a dance point-of-view, is the great pas de deux for Marie and The Prince. Here, Petipa’s original choreography is retained, and French principal Sophie Martin and her English counterpart Adam Blyde dance it with such confidence, energy and subtlety that they were, deservedly, cheered to the rafters on opening night.

At Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Dec 29, then touring until Feb 9. Details: scottishballet.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 10, 2012

© Mark Brown

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