Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stories for the Season: The Nutcracker (Like You've Never Seen It Before)

I mentioned I was going to focus on Christmas/Yule/Winter Solstice appropriate tales over the remainder of the Holiday season so it makes sense to start with "Nutcracker"."The Nutcracker" is possibly 'the' fairy tale most think of when it comes to Christmas time and I'm often surprised to hear of the types of people that make going to see a 'Nutcracker" ballet production a yearly tradition. People who don't normally think about fairy tales or follow ballet often grew up going with their parents so it's become something Christmas wouldn't be complete without.

Since a lot of you follow the SurLaLune blog too I won't repeat much about E.T.A. Hoffman's story, the many books which beautifully illustrate it or the traditional ballet. Instead I have two Nutcracker offerings you may not have come across before, both by ballet companies.

The first is Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker and has a few twists to the story, although it remains a family-friendly ballet with a strong positive Christmas feel.Here's a summary from The Royal Sadler's Wells Ballet Company - a production that's quickly become loved and a new tradition itself:
This delicious theatrical feast has family-sized helpings of Matthew Bourne's trademark wit, pathos and magical fantasy. Nutcracker! follows Clara's bittersweet journey from a hilariously bleak Christmas Eve at Dr. Dross' Orphanage, through a shimmering, ice-skating winter wonderland to the scrumptious candy kingdom of Sweetieland.
There's a whole website especially about Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker too, with tons more information - you can see that HERE.
Here's a montage/promo:

It's also available on DVD HERE.

The second is a more adult ballet, choreographed by Graeme Murphy for The Australian Ballet Company and is called "Nutcracker - the Story of Clara".Here's the summary:

This is no ordinary Nutcracker; it is a quintessentially Australian reinterpretation created by the incomparable Graeme Murphy, who was for many years the driving spirit of the Sydney Dance Company. It is a reinterpretation that celebrates the history of ballet in Australia, and of the Australian Ballet itself with its links to the great Russian ballet tradition. In this version, Clara is not a child but a frail Russian ex-ballerina, reliving her illustrious career (Edit FTNH: through feverish dreams) on a hot summer night in Melbourne (Edit FTNH: Christmas is, of course, blisteringly hot in Australia!), and looking back on her St Petersburg days with a group of her fellow expatriate dancers. In the course of this career we see child Clara on her opening night, Clara at the height of her career, and the older Clara looking back.

Here you can see the film that's projected onto the back scrim during a key sequence - "Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker is set on a sweltering Melbourne Christmas Eve in the late 1950s. Clara is not a child but a frail ex-ballerina, reliving her rich and eventful life in one night of feverish dreams. This film segment is projected over the whole set; it sets the scene for the start of the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks are now portrayed as rats and our heroin is woven amongst this extraordinarily well shot footage of Siegei Eisenstein's Oktiabr (October: Ten Days That Shook the World), which was - incredibly! - filmed some 80 years ago..." (from the video description):

You can learn a lot more about Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker ballet and see lots more images HERE and/or get a copy of the production on DVD HERE.

Both use Tchaikovsky's score, are beautiful and are undeniably 'Nutcracker', albeit in different ways. If you love the Nutcracker ballet or dance and ballet in general I highly recommend them both.
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