A few cracks, but still magical

The Nutcracker **** (4 stars of 6)

November 29th, 2012 6:57 pm| by admin

This year’s version of ‘The Nutcracker’ at Tivoli moves the story of Clara Stahlbaum and her Nutcracker to Copenhagen in the 1870s. Famous Danes of the late 19th century gather at the Stahlbaum family’s Christmas party, including HC Andersen, the ballet master August Bournonville and Tivoli’s director from 1868-85, Bernhard Olsen. In the second act, instead of to the original Land of Sweets, Clara is transported to Tivoli.

This new context for the Christmas ballet’s core story works well: the illustrious guests give Clara Christmas presents that later come to life in her Tivoli dreamland, and some of them take over the parts of the original ‘Nutcracker’ characters. But the production struggles with a challenge that all versions of the ‘Nutcracker’ have to face: is young Clara played by a child – which normally means she can do less complicated dancing – or is an adult ballerina cast in the role, which makes her playing under the Christmas tree unconvincing, to say the least.

Casting Teele Ude, this production chooses a dancer. But her childlike looks make her fit so perfectly into the group of pre-teenage party guests that the suggested romance between her and the adult Nutcracker-turned-Soldier seems odd. The choreography is nothing special, and the dancing far from flawless. And the greatest disappointment is that Tchaikovsky’s fantastic music is played from speakers, instead of by an orchestra.

All this nagging aside – for most the key question will be: do kids like it? And the kids at the 14:00 performance I saw didn’t seem to take offence at the taped music or the weird age dynamics and were mostly watching in awe.

In part, they must have been dazzled by the scenography and costumes by Queen Margrethe. If not her most original décor, it is beautiful, fun and in many cases shows a great love for detail. The Stahlbaums’ furnishing in the first act looks a little droll, and it is amusing to call to mind that this is a queen’s imagination of a bourgeois living room. In the second act, a hot air balloon flies Clara to a Tivoli-dreamworld that features all the obligatory sparkle.

And the beautifully glittering spectacle continues after the performance: at least for the few minutes that the ‘Nutcracker’ audience make their way from the theatre through the Russian/Scandinavian Christmas-themed Tivoli to the exit.

The Nutcracker is playing at Tivoli until December 22.

(photo: Frank Fu)
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