The Nutcracker plays every year unfailingly across the globe so many times that it has become the subject of many ballet memes. The ballet by Marius Petipa and Len Ivanov is based on Alexandre Dumas’ French adaptation of ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’. Over the years, ballet audiences have seen different versions of the closing portion of this ballet.
So how does one take a much-performed Nutcracker and present it differently?
Opernhaus Zurich recently revived Christian Spuck’s take on the original story by ETA Hoffman replete with the eerie and bizarre moments the original story provides.
The ballet version one normally sees takes the viewer into the magical world of Marie Stahlbaum. Marie takes a fancy to a nutcracker her uncle Drosselmeier displays at a family gathering on Christmas eve. The nutcracker comes to life at night, fights the mice army with the help of gingerbread soldiers, tin soldiers, and dolls. Marie saves the wounded nutcracker who turns into a prince and takes Marie to the Sugar Land.
Sugar Plum Fairy rules Sugar Land in the prince’s absence. Snowflakes dance around Marie and the Prince. All the sweets in the kingdom dance in honour of Marie and thank her for saving the life of their prince.
Christian Spuck adds the story of how the Nutcracker came to be. uncle Drosselmeier tells Marie the story of princess Pirlipat. The Mouse Queen curses princess Pirlipat and transforms her into an ugly person. She can only be cured by eating a ‘crackatook’ nut. Drosselmeier ’s nephew saves princess Pirlipat. He is cursed by the Mouse Queen to become a nutcracker.
Christian Spuck’s ballet moves between the two stories with ease. Reality and imagination overlap from time to time, taking the viewer through both stories. The ballet opens with two clowns, and an accordion player and you know bizarre has just about begun.
The transitions of the Nutcracker into the prince and vice versa happen on stage innovatively. The portion with dancers wailing in deliberate slow motion, with a lot of body movements thrown in, is well choreographed. Marie has some excellent dances – solo and with uncle Drosselmeier . The snowflakes dance stands out too.
The set and costuming are very creative and add successfully to the eerie look. Marie and princess Pirlipat are doppelgangers, adding another complex layer to the multilayered story. The dancers in the snowflake waltz wear black tutus adorned with fairy lights (representing Christmas), instead of the usual snow white. The Sugar Fairy aunt wears a tutu decorated with cupcakes. Uncle Drosselmeier looks Johnny Depp-esque with his Mad hatter-meets-Willy Wonka-meets-magician look. Jan Casier who plays uncle Drosselmeier pulls off his role with elan.
The set for this ballet is a dilapidated theatre, which also houses Drosselmeier ’s workshop (with strange toys) and the Stahlbaum’s living room. The stage space is used in a fluid manner, unlike other ballets, where set changes happen in order to denote specific locations. The giant pendulum that swings across the stage evokes a collective gasp from the audience, while the remote controlled rats running on stage make you chuckle. Both however do make you appreciate the thought process that has gone into creating the look and feel and attention to detail in order to achieve perfect execution.
This ballet is slow in places, and different from the regular ballets. Spuck tries to present a different side of the story, which moves away from its Christmassy feel. He sets the focus on ETA Hoffman’s dark version and does it successfully.
Opernhaus Zurich suspended the shows of the ‘Nutcracker and Mouse King’ due to the Coronavirus lockdown. If there is another revival and you wish to watch a ballet that has an eerie take on a story, do watch this one.
Image Credits: Gregory Batardon
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed belong solely to the content provider. Namaste Switzerland does not undertake any financial/reputational/legal/misrepresentational impact or other obligations/ liabilities that may arise from the content.