The artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet has created a gold-standard production of this beloved party piece, remaining faithful to the feel of the 19th-century original. Featuring sumptuous sets and costumes worthy of a fairytale, The Nutcracker is perfectly complemented by Tchaikovsky’s last great score for ballet, with its lively motifs and bewitching melodies.
It is Christmas Eve and Dr Stahlbaum and his wife, a former ballerina, are giving a party. They have two children: Clara, who is 15 and training to be a dancer, and her younger brother, Fritz. Mrs Stahlbaum has invited some of Clara’s friends from the ballet school, who dance for the guests, after which they ask her to dance.
She has also invited a magician, Drosselmeyer, to provide an entertainment. He brings gifts for the young children and gives a Nutcracker doll to Clara; she is fascinated by it, and her belief that it has magical powers is confirmed when her brother breaks it and the doll strangely mends itself.
As the party comes to an end, the guests depart and the family retires to bed. Unable to sleep, Clara creeps downstairs looking for the Nutcracker. As the clock strikes midnight, strange things begin to happen.
The whole room seems to grow and grow and a horde of giant rats, led by their King, attack Clara. The Nutcracker springs to life and, summoning the toy soldiers, defends her. A battle ensues. Realising that the Nutcracker is about to be overpowered, Clara hits the Rat King with her shoe and he collapses.
The Nutcracker falls exhausted to the ground, seemingly lifeless. Sadly, Clara takes him in her arms and tries to revive him. He gradually comes back to life and, to her amazement, has turned into a handsome Prince. He dances with her, then leads her to the Land of Snow, where the winds transport her into the night sky.
Clara flies through the clouds and arrives in a strange place, where a fantastic world is conjured up by Drosselmeyer. He shows her the sun, the moon, flowers and dancers from many different lands. The Rat King bursts in, but the Nutcracker Prince and Drosselmeyer banish him forever.
Drosselmeyer now puts on a grand entertainment in Clara’s honour as a reward for her bravery. She joins in many of the dances and is finally transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy, the ballerina of her dreams. The Nutcracker Prince reappears and dances with her. As the dancing reaches its climax the dream world vanishes and Clara awakens at the foot of the Christmas tree.
Veteran designer John F Macfarlane exquisitely evokes the world of this picture-perfect ballet: whirling snowflakes, crackling fires, band-box soldiers, a Christmas tree that grows until it brushes the ceiling and a Sugar Plum Fairy in luscious candy-floss pink.
“Since 2007, Sir Peter’s production of The Nutcracker has been a wondrous addition to our repertoire,” said Artistic Director David McAllister AM. “I truly believe it is the most beautiful version of this classic, with its exquisite theatrical detail, elegant choreography and those sumptuous designs by John Macfarlane. Every moment is one to savour both visually and emotionally and brilliantly mirrors the Tchaikovsky score.
Acknowledged as one of the most popular ballets of all time, The Nutcracker has a rich history. The story first appeared in 1816 in a book of short tales by German writer Ernst Theador Amadeus Hoffman under the title Nussknacker und Mauskönig (Nutcracker and the Mouse King), and it made its ballet debut in 1892 in St Petersburg, Russia.
Since then, it has been reimagined countless times in productions including Graeme Murphy’s uniquely Australian take in Nutcracker – The Story of Clara, last seen on the State Theatre stage in 2017. Two very different interpretations illustrate the artistic depth of what appears at first glance as a simple children’s tale.
With the holidays around the corner, there’s no better way than The Nutcracker to rediscover the childlike joys of the season, or to create your own family tradition.
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 17 – 28 September 2019
Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 8 – 12 October 2019
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Season: 30 November – 18 December 2019
For more information, visit: www.australianballet.com.au for details.
Image: Artists of The Australian Ballet – photo by Jeff Busby