Snow falling, Christmas baubles, glitz and magic - Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker to Tchaikovsky performed by the company’s live orchestra is like a box of chocolate treats. Based on Peter Darrell, the Founder of Scottish Ballet’s original choreography forty years ago, now re-imagined by Christopher Hampson, this is a show for all the family to get into the Christmas spirit with some surprising changes. Like Darrell, Hampson feels taking risks is essential to keep such an iconic piece alive.
Like a box of chocolate treats.
The principal dancers Evan Loudon as the Nutcracker Prince, Grace Horler as the Snow Queen, Marge Hendrick as the Sugar Plum Fairy - (and most people will know her solo’s music) are all superb. The choreography is nicely varied (though there are some unnerving and inelegant lifts in the Nutcracker/Sugar Plum pas de deux.) The set by Lez Brotherston is stunning, simple but focusing on the essential: a Christmas tree, one silver, in the Land of Ice and Snow and the riot of coloured baubles hanging from the ceiling in Act Two. The Nutcracker Prince and other soldiers look smart, black boots emphasizing their white leggings and all the magical fairies, not least the Sugar Plum, glitter in twinkling tutus. And most charming are the eight children, auditioned in Glasgow and Aberdeen for the party scene.
The first surprise twist is to the casting, a female Drosselmeyer, a magician. Performed by Madeline Squire, she stole the show. Swirling a cloak to reveal flashes of its blue sparkly lining, she is the bringer of magic not only to the story but in her performance. (The part will be performed by a male on alternate nights but I was thrilled to see a woman.)
This nod to feminism is a great success and it seems a little begrudging to note the stereotypical portrayal of the children in Act I has not been re-imagined: the girls are meek, nursing their dolls while the boys have all the fun, marching, blowing trumpets, rushing around making a nuisance of themselves. Of course, it’s Clara’s brother Fritz (Benjamin Brett) who breaks the Nutcracker. What if it was a naughty girl?
Hampson is also keen to readdress stereotypical and racist portrayals of past productions especially concerning the Chinese dance. However, it’s a shame that the Chinese sequence, though it may now be authentic, is underwhelming, not helped by their dull murky green costumes. The Arab dancer’s costume, by contrast, is glorious and Roseanna Leney’s hands and wrist movements had an Arabic feel, but again, what is Arabic about a tutu showing all her legs? But maybe these are quibbles.
The Christmas party in Clara’s home is now in Act I and there are some charming characterizations, not least the two eccentric aunts in black, wandering about. The adults’ costumes are rather muted, a contrast to later fairy glitz, but there seemed no reason why they could not be brighter. The whole act went on far too long.
The major disappointment was the fight between the Nutcracker Prince, his soldiers and King Rat and his minions. This is the scene everyone remembers, especially if seen as a child. But this is a bit like the fudge left at the bottom of the chocolate box that nobody wants: it lacks drama and focus, fudged indeed, and the mice running around holding their cumbersome tails over their arms are ludicrous. Ok so they do use their tails as whips but in a half-hearted way.
So to summarize: dancing - amazing; drama - could do better. But the lit up expression on Clara’s face (played by Caoimhe Fisher) perhaps says it all. It’s still a magical show.