A joyful celebration of ballet, a deeply moving life story, and an affectionately humorous depiction of the emigrant experience are masterfully interwoven in Nutcracker – The Story of Clara at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre from 2 June 2017.
Created in 1992 for The Australian Ballet by one of the country’s most audacious and prolific choreographers, Graeme Murphy, this ballet has become a modern Australian classic – celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, this quintessentially Australian production is set to enchant a new generation of audiences.
Nutcracker – The Story of Clara departs from its whimsical forebear to tell a story grounded in real-world events and the history of ballet in Australia. In Murphy’s radical retelling, Clara is an elderly Russian emigrant and former prima ballerina, dreaming of her earlier days with love and sadness one feverishly hot Australian Christmas Eve in the late 1950s.
Her story encompasses romance and loss, worldwide fame, war and revolution, and a journey to Australia which leads to her joining the nation’s earliest professional ballet company, sowing the seeds of The Australian Ballet. In this two-act story ballet, the character of Clara is performed by three different dancers spanning the generations, seamlessly coming together and parting ways over the course of Clara’s recollections.
Nuanced set and costume designs by Kristian Fredrikson evoke the formative places in her life, from her Russian childhood to her retirement in sunburnt Australia. The world of Clara’s youth is rich in dreamlike details, with snowflakes whirling about the stage in fluttering white headdresses, and giant golden blooms adorning the walls of the Tsar’s lavish ballroom.
The much loved score by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is at the very centre of this production as the catalyst for Clara’s nostalgic recollections, and the accompaniment to her fondest memories of performing. A distinctly Australian inclusion in The Australian Ballet’s 2017 Season, Nutcracker – The Story of Clara is a fantastical tale with a very human heart.
During a sweltering Christmas Eve in Melbourne in the late 1950s, the ageing Clara, once a famous Russian ballerina, is filled with nostalgia as Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker emanates from her radio. Clara enjoys an evening of reminiscing and dancing with her Russian friends, then, exhausted, she falls into a dream-filled sleep under the watch of her visiting doctor.
In her dreams, Clara’s story unfolds, from her childhood ballet training at the Imperial Conservatoire in Russia, to an eventual acceptance into the ranks of the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, where she becomes a famous prima ballerina. She makes a triumphant debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker before the Tsar and Tsarina at an Imperial Ball.
Tragedy strikes when in 1917 revolution breaks out, and the young officer with whom she is deeply in love must leave for war. His death shatters her world. In the years that follow, Clara departs Russia to join Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. She grows as an artist as she tours the world, and in 1940 she arrives in Australia as a glamorous star with the de Basil Ballets Russe.
As the Second World War draws to a close, Clara dances her farewell performance with the newly formed Borovansky Ballet before an adoring audience. As her dreams fade into darkness, Clara falls into a deeper, and peaceful, final sleep.
Choreographer: Graeme Murphy Creative Associate: Janet Vernon Concept: Graeme Murphy and Kristian Fredrikson Costume and Set Design: Kristian Fredrikson Original Lighting Design: John Drummond Montgomery Music: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Conductors: Nicolette Fraillon and Simon Threw Featuring: Artists of The Australian Ballet and Orchestra Victoria
Nutcracker – The Story of Clara
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, melbourne
Season: 2 – 10 June 2017
For more information, visit: www.australianballet.com.au for details.
Image: Kevin Jackson and Leanne Stojmenov feature in Nutcracker – The Story of Clara – photo by Justin Ridler