Hardly a Christmas cracker

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 1995, 12:00am

THERE is nothing remotely Scrooge-like about the set for this 19th century Christmas classic. John Fraser, former designer at Glyndebourne, has created a beautiful setting for Hong Kong Ballet's Nutcracker.

This is the first redesign in eight years of the annual Nutcracker, and it includes a marvellous fin de siecle drawing room with richly patterned gold wallpaper, and a realistic picture window.

The snow-covered forest in act one is a wonderful backdrop of vast child-size snowflakes. Perhaps it is churlish, but I did wonder what the two giant pandas were doing in the middle of the ice scene: snow seems rather distant from the bamboo-filled forests of Szechuan.

The bright candy-coloured backdrop for the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy in act two is fun and appropriately magical. The dancers also managed to provide a little magic on the opening night - it was hard not to, with Tchaikovsky's toe-tapping music, Peter Darrell's choreography, and the Christmas season starting for real.

But it was not quite enough. Although Michael Wang was a strong, graceful prince, who usually succeeded in creating a sense of energy when he was on stage, and the children were as charming as one would hope, many of the other performances lacked exuberance.

The Christmas party was rarely more than a set of pretty steps; the mice were too cuddly to be frightening, and the monkeys didn't act at all.

Like so much of the evening, the dance of the veils in act two was pretty but without passion. The lady in red should have been smouldering with Middle Eastern intensity; instead she looked as if she was thinking of England.

The Russian Cossacks were energetic, but the sailor never looked as if he had even broken into a sweat during the hornpipe. The sense of life was not helped by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, under the baton of Mido Komai, which had a sleepy start. It woke up later, but never sparkled.

Granted, this annual money spinner is not exactly the most exciting assignment for the dancers and musicians: but for children it should be one of the joys of Christmas: they should come out of the theatre with their eyes gleaming.

This version of the ballet is a pretty sugar plum: next year I should like to see a fizz bomb of a Nutcracker. The Nutcracker, Hong Kong Ballet, Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, until Saturday