The Nutcracker by the Royal New Zealand Ballet
December 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
A busty matron (played by Sir Jon Trimmer, who performed in the RNZB’s first ever production of The Nutcracker in 1963) sends her young wards off to bed with a stiff dose of medicine, with generous helping for herself. And what stuff it must be, especially when paired with a concussion, if the dreams of Clara are anything to go by.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet have set this version of The Nutcracker in a 1920s children’s hospital ward. Clara gets a nutcracker for her birthday (weren’t children easy to please in those days!), which her brother hits her over the head with. She’s taken to hospital, where dropped waists, crisp pleats and boys in waistcoats abound.
And to be honest, I thought ballet wouldn’t be my thing. And after first scene, and I was worried it was all a bit slap-stick, and all a bit – and I do apologise to those involved – Marcel Marceau.
But a clever set change to the aforementioned hospital draws a gasp from the audience, and I’m on my way to a very enjoyable evening. Probably grinning like a synchronised swimmer the while.
The real stars of the show were the nurse and doctor, and their unfolding love story. I would never have thought two people could be charismatic without dialogue. And because of the matron’s hallucinogenic drugs, they undergo a number of reincarnations within the traditional structure and numbers of the ballet.
The second act, and we get into the recognisable stuff, “The Nutcracker Suite”. (Anyone who was brought up on Disney’s Fantasia as musical fibre will start to feel nostalgic at about this point.) The most ethereal snow, which dissipates in such a way that you can see the currents radiating from a body, or between the two, is not like any snow I’ve seen on stage before; it is dream-like and charming. The Arabian Dance was amazing. Then, three jokers on crutches. All crowd-pleasing stuff.
It’s probably elements like this that make people say things like, “It’s so good to get the kids started on,” – as if the thing wasn’t a real ballet and had training wheels attached. Maybe it isn’t, but I dare say it’s very good in that introductory role.
Mind you, I did regress into a child-like state. Got excited about Christmas, and all that. The price is dear, but the show is enjoyable. I want to call it original, but without having any other experiences to compare it with I would feel a bit fraudulent. Take the children if you have any – judging from the enjoyment of the dear little thing two rows back from me (“Mum! Look at the disco balls!”), they’ll love you for it.
First, a confession: Before tonight, I had never been to the ballet. I’ve seen a number of big dance productions, many of them at The Civic, but I’ve never been able to say I was going to the ballet. I was concerned I’d be underdressed, but no one was decked out in monocles or mink stoles. In fact, what struck me the most was how unstuffy the atmosphere was, which complemented the fun nature of the show perfectly.
I’d read that this version of The Nutcracker was updated and “cartoonish”, and so it is, but it carries this off without being garish or distasteful. The elegant 1920s costumes and gorgeous set decorations (I’ve never seen a hospital scene look so warm and inviting) will make you giddy with delight.
If you have tastes similar to those of the diverse opening-night crowd, you’ll also be charmed by the energy of dollish Clara, the antics of her brutish brother, Fritz, and in particular the love story of the nurse and doctor, who will blow you away with their heart-felt duets.
And if the idea of a ballet fills you with trepidation about watching an hour or so of puffy skirts and mincing pirouettes, don’t worry: the comedic factor of the show was the biggest and most pleasant surprise. The liveliest scenes were crammed full of goofy pantomimes that had adults and children alike rapt with laughter. And while a couple of the slower numbers drag a bit, for the most part the show offers plenty to keep your attention fixed eagerly on the stage.