RESPECT. Review: Matthew Bourne’s ‘Nutcracker!’

During the holiday season, one of the most recognizable productions is that of the ballet The Nutcracker. The original ballet set to music by Tchaikovsky is enjoyed by many, including British award-winning choreographer Matthew Bourne. Bourne, famous for his New Adventures re-imaginings such as a Swan Lake with male swans and a Sleeping Beauty where the fairies are also vampires, adds his unique twist in to the beloved holiday ballet, turning it into something familiar yet completely new.

Instead of a happy family Christmas party, Bourne’s Nutcracker! starts off in a bleak orphanage that seems more like a prison. Clara, an unhappy resident, is with the other children subjected to the taunting of Sugar and Fritz, the children of the owners, watching them open presents in front of the orphans but neglecting to share. Clara finds a nutcracker doll in the box of toys given as charity, though Sugar breaks it in a jealous fit. While the other orphans fix the doll, all the toys are taken away by the owners, causing Clara to steal the keys to get her Nutcracker back. Sugar catches on and tries to stop her, only to run when a life sized doll appears instead. The owners and the orphans get into a battle, after which the Nutcracker, now a handsome man, is stolen away by Sugar as they head into Sweetieland.

The second act finds a pair of cupids deciding to help Clara get her man back. She sees the Nutcracker and Sugar (and Fritz who is tagging along) enter Sweetieland, but she herself is denied entry by the doorman, instead being forced to watch the amusing and bizarre acts of the other patrons entering the amazingly colorful land. She finally sneaks in, only to see Sugar and the Nutcracker married despite her and the cupids’ best efforts. She returns to the orphanage, but finds that her true prince had been there all along as they escape the oppressive establishment together.

This ballet was first put to stage in 1992 and, while keeping to the basic storyline and using the same score of music, maintains the atmosphere of originality in that it often seems like it is on a literal acid trip as some of the “sweets” look to be used for recreational purposes. One review, when comparing the drably colored first act to the second, wrote that “[the second act] set in ‘Sweetieland’, has all the hallmarks of an MGM musical on acid and more colour than an explosion in a paint factory”. Bourne, in his usual style of mixing traditional ballet with more contemporary styles of dance, allows for some modern (suggestive) dance that would not be permitted in the traditional performance. This makes the show not only have a dichotomy between the modern dancing and the classical music, but also makes the show easier to watch for those not used to the rigidity of classic ballet.

Nutcracker! is incredibly entertaining, and definitely recommended for those looking to add a bit of differentiation to their holiday watch list. Darker and more adult than the original, it is also a show that you might want to wait until the kids are a bit older to show them. The DVD of the ballet can be found on Amazon and the trailer is available to watch below. More information on Matthew Bourne and his works can be found here.


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