Fun and creative twist on a classic; worth several looks
J. Lizzi | Costa Mesa, CA | 11/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Matthew Bourne's version of the Nutcracker has a storyline that begins in a Victorian orphanage, where Dr. Dross (Drosselmeyer in the traditional version) and his wife are portrayed as pompous meanies who intimidate the kids. Further contrasting with the original, the Dross children are ungrateful, spoiled brats, and act true to form during their visit to the orphanage. The Governors arrive to inspect the ward, but there's more bickering than revelry, and the presents they've brought for the children get taken away as soon as the "festivity" (read commotion) is over. Come bedtime, Clara dreams that the Nutcracker doll (who's a dead ringer for a puppet from the Howdy Doody Show; hilarious!) comes to life, breaks apart the walls of the orphanage, and whisks her away to a snowy paradise. The second act takes us to "Sweetieland," where everything (and everyone, apparently) is made of candy. When Clara falls in love with the Nutcracker Prince, a love triangle(!) results when the Sugar Plum Fairy also makes overtures to the prince. After the requisite series of theme dances we're back at the orphanage, where Clara wakes up to discover that her "prince" is actually one of the boys in the ward.
The unique mix of characters and storyline held my attention throughout, with help from the original Tchaikovsky score that enabled me keep my bearings from beginning to end (i.e., "so this music occurs when this character . . ."). The more one is familiar with the traditional Nutcracker story, the easier it will be to make the leap into Mr. Bourne's fantasy, as comparisons between this and the original interpretations will be more interesting and enlightening. [I would definitely NOT recommend this for anyone's first viewing of the Nutcracker]
The dancers/actors display over-emoted gestures and facial expressions, but this is necessary to convey a much more comical and spirited production (the performance was filmed before a live audience). As expected, the choreography also strays from the traditional, incorporating a mix of modern dance, swing, and even folkloric elements. I like this a lot. You will see a hint of more traditional ballet steps, although, without pointe shoes the "ballerinas" are more free to execute the diversity of movement. The choreography is amazingly tight, and even the curtain call has the cast taking positions on cue. The costumes are anything but traditional, ranging from the dull, threadbare orphanage clothing to the wild, feathery, colorful (pink dominates) outfits in Sweetieland.
Some clever elements incorporated into Mr. Bourne's storyline are the allusions to movies ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" for one) and some bits of playful sexual innuendo-Sweetieland characters licking each other as well as the candy (children will likely remain unaffected). Also, the ending dance suite involves many highly self-absorbed personas who, when not watching themselves in mirrors, seem to be playing out a game of one-upmanship from dance to dance. Very fun to watch.
The sound quality is fantastic: clear, bright, and well balanced.
The camera work made excellent use of both traditional and oblique-angle perspectives, but had many instances of image framing where the performers were cut off at the waist (my pet peeve), thus depriving the viewer of some excellent footwork and body language. The run time of 80+ minutes zipped by pretty quickly, and I would have enjoyed seeing some scenes played out a little longer. Still, it's a good show, and I'd recommend this performance to anyone but first-time Nutcracker viewers or ballet traditionalists."
An Unconventional Nutcracker, Witty, Charming And A Little N
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/25/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's more hip and tongue action in Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker than Tchaikovsky or Balanchine probably envisaged, but nevertheless the ballet is funny, touching, original and witty. More to the point, it remains charming and innocent while Bourne brings a whole new look and style to the old perennial.
This time there is no sumptuous family Christmas celebration or crowds of cute dancing tykes. We're in a dim, cold orphanage which Dr. Dross (Scott Ambler) and his wife, the matron (Emily Piercy), run with an unsmiling strictness. Their two children, Sugar (Saranne Curtin) and Fritz (Ewan Wardrop) are spoiled, snotty monsters. One of the orphans, Clara (Etta Murfitt), longs to escape. Magically, after a sad little Christmas party, a nutcracker doll (Alan Vincent) comes to life, rescues Clara and punishes Dr. Dross, the Matron and their children. Clara finds herself in an enchanted winterland. Then, with the help of two cupids in striped pajamas, she makes her way to Sweetieland, where everything, including the people, are made of candy. And here Dr. Dross is the smiling King Sherbet, the Matron is the beautiful Queen Candy and their two children have become Princess Sugar and Prince Bonbon. The Nutcracker, to Clara's wondering eyes, has become a handsome young man who looks much like the shy fellow who gazed longingly at Clara in the orphanage. After all the great Tchaikovsky dances, the party in Sweetieland comes to a close, and Clara finds herself back at the orphanage. It hasn't changed. It's as cold and barren as before. But then she sees waiting for her the young man. He ties a sheet to a bed, they toss the end out the window, and escape together.
Most people, I hope, will find themselves able to do two things: First, to greatly enjoy Bourne's take on this ballet; and second, also to treasure the more conventional and superb versions by Balanchine and Baryshnikov.
Bourne not only uses classic ballet, but Broadway, jive, sports and even burlesque. He's also not afraid to be a little scary. When the Nutcracker comes to life at the orphanage he has a frozen face that looks like a cross between Howdy Doody and Chucky. He lurches across the stage. In Sweetieland, however, everything that was unhappy and threatening has been turned to warmth and gaiety. The three helmet-wearing gobstoppers strut around like football stars in the end-zone, swiveling their hips and pumping the air. The licorice Allsorts do a tempestuous Spanish stomp that has Clara looking twice at where their hands land. Since everything is candy in Sweetieland, there's a lot of finger sucking and face licking, which might startle the grownups but would probably make the kids give a delighted "Eeuww." The whole thing is funny and a little naughty, but never so much that anyone other than the most prudish would be offended...certainly not kids.
This is Matthew Bourne in a playful mood. For a darker look, watch his "Swan Lake." Either way, he's an immensely gifted and original choreographer."
A Sweet Nutcracker
Y. J. Lee | ASIA | 12/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I watched Bourne's dance musical, Edward Scissorhand. This Nutcracker remined me of the musical. These two have many similarities-both sweet, lovely, creative. Some serious ballet people may not like this, but I enjoyed it very much.