Review- The Nutcracker, by John Neumeier- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By Nicole Garbellini



When I first heard that The Nutcracker was going to be shown at The Hong Kong Arts Festival this year I felt a mix of excitement (as I never get tired of seeing that production) and a tinge of curiosity to see how such a Christmas-oriented show would fit into a springtime schedule. 

The Nutcracker, presented by The Hamburg Ballet and directed by John Neumeier, answered my questions as soon as I started watching the show, as this take on Tchaikovsky's most famous work is certainly different from other productions that I have seen. 

There are significant plot differences to the original. For example, the production begins with a birthday party as opposed to a party on Christmas Eve, and the female lead is Marie as opposed to Clara. 

Marie turns twelve, and a surprise party is held at her house. Her brother Fritz, a cadet, has invited his regimental comrades to celebrate Marie, and her sister Louise -- a ballerina at the Court Theatre --  has invited her ballet master, Drosselmeier, who gives Marie a pair of silky ballet slippers as a birthday present. Gunther, one of Fritz's friends, is the spokesman for his fellow cadets, and in their name gives Marie a present of a nutcracker.  Marie is fascinated by Drosselmeier, but falls in love, as young girls do, with the handsome cadet Gunther. 

When the party is over, Marie puts on her ballet shoes but, as she's not a dancer -- unlike her sister -- she's unable to stand. After a few attempts, she falls asleep, abandoning the real world for fantasy land. 

In her dream, Drosselmeier introduces her to the strange and yet magical world of the theatre of the Court Theatre Ballet. There she meets Gunther again, and this time he is no longer a cadet but a soloist dancer of the ballet company; together, they dance and Marie moves beautifully on pointe. 

Drosselmeier shows Marie how a ballet production is put together. Every single detail of the production reincarnates the beauty, and the hard work, of a ballet rehearsal. The perfect choreography enthrals the spectators and the clever choice of costumes by Jurgen Rose completes the image, giving a taste of a Degas painting. 

I always look forward to the second act more than the first, as I am always curious to see how the dances from around the world are choreographed. Needless to say, Neumeier's choreography didn't disappoint, and a series of different dances from different parts of the world (Spain, China, Italy and Egypt) took place with Drosselmeier directing the dances and, occasionally, joining in himself. 

In the grand finale, the magical world of the theatre disappears and Marie is awakened by her mother. Drosselmeier is still by her side when she wakes up, and he kisses her farewell before disappearing from the stage. 

Alexandre Riabko was simply outstanding in his role. Not only did he show flawless dancing techniques, but also a very impressive range of acting abilities, making his character stern, pedantic, at times annoying and yet amazingly charismatic. 

Emilie Mazon's marvel and innocence made the audience get lost in her fantasy world; from the moment she stepped on stage she embodied her twelve-year-old character in a whimsical and believable manner. It was great to see her interacting with her sister Louise, Mayo Arii, whose coquettishness and flirtatiousness made Marie look up to her, and perhaps envy her at the same time. Miss Arii was absolutely a stand out in her role, and the Hong Kong Philarmonic executed the whole performance beautifully and flawlessly, as they always do. 

I was curious to find out more about these performers, but sadly the programme of The Hong Kong Arts Festival did not feature them. I was also hoping for a different choice of costume in the number "The Pharaoh's Daughter", as the tutu worn by Priscilla Tselikova felt like it was impeding her moves more than facilitating her. Given the choreography and the theme of the dance, odalisque trousers would have suited her better. 

This was the first time for me to see one of John Neumeier's production, and I will certainly look out for more.  

This production has now closed. 


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