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Review: Hong Kong Ballet's The Nutcracker

An annual Christmas tradition, with a tighter narrative to chew on

Copyright by Conrad Dy-Liacco
During the Christmas season, many ballet companies worldwide perform The Nutcracker. Since its 1892 premiere in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in Russia, it's established that a good production of Nutcracker still yields its rewards on repeated viewings. Cinderella is another viable Christmas offering, but it just cannot compete with Nutcracker in terms of the box office.
 
So it’s no surprise that for this Christmas season the Hong Kong Ballet presented The Nutcracker again as usual. This existing production by the Australian choreographer Terence Kohler is now in its fifth year. Kohler used a different libretto by fellow Australian Clair Sauran which is original and works well. The sets and costumes designed by Jordi Roig are lavish.
 
Briefly, the main change to the traditional story line is that the magician Drosselmeyer gifts Clara a doll house instead of a nutcracker. It’s in the doll house that the Christmas Eve party and the subsequent battle between the rats and the Nutcracker’s arm take place in Act 1. In Act 2 the Sugar Plum Fairy is replaced by a ballerina doll who has been frozen earlier by the Rat King and is rescued by Clara and her brother Fritz. This version also introduces an additional character like Clarchen who is Clara’s favourite doll. She is performed by a student, and in Act 2 has a delightful solo in the Waltz of the Flowers.

Kohler has made some minor revisions again this year, which has tightened the narrative. My repeated viewing this year confirms my opinion that this production is dramatically superior to the company’s previous production by Stephen Jefferies which had some silly and illogical moments. Kohler’s choreography is satisfying overall and is better than the old production. However I wish that he could have retained Ivanov’s great original choreography for the Act 2 grand pas de deux instead of substituting his own steps.

The performance that I saw in late December was led by company principals Liu Yuyao and Wei Wei. Liu and Wei were exemplary in the grand pas de deux in Act 2. Liu’s perfect long line was shown to best advantage here. Her dancing was radiant as well as grand. There was an inevitability in her steps which were impeccably executed. Wei Wei on this occasion was above his form, dancing and partnering most nobly.
 
Company performances were also strong. In the supporting roles, Jonathan Spigner stood out as Fritz, dancing vivaciously with bright spirits. Shen Jie dazzled as an Italian doll. And the Hong Kong Sinfonietta was impressive under the baton of Andrew Mogrelia.

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