Nutcracker-Hong Kong Ballet

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 December, 1997, 12:00am

Nutcracker: Hong Kong Ballet Cultural Centre December 14.

Continues till December 23 A vermin army with lethal 'ratapults', exotic teenage dream sequences, a story as much about childhood as about the challenges of growing up: with this delightful new production, Hong Kong Ballet appears to have cracked the problem of its annual show.

Each year the difficulty is how to keep the Nutcracker fresh for young audiences, when dancers, directors and musicians alike tend to see this popular piece as a financial necessity rather than an artistic pleasure to present.

One of the strengths of artistic director Stephen Jefferies - on stage and as a choreographer - is his emphasis on acting, and this is a very drama-led version of the Tchaikovsky classic.

Sprinkled between the Christmas tinsel of happy dancing, there is an intriguing psychological side to Jefferies' choreography.

Who is this King Rat that creeps around Clara's bedroom as she sleeps? And, as the young Clara (performed convincingly by Hanado Hoshini-Caines) dreams, not only does she imagine the Sugar Plum Fairy, she becomes her.

Persuasive story and sets were enhanced by strong principal dancers. Eriko Ochiai was a plum of a fairy heroine, Michael Wang a charmingly heroic prince in the pas de deux that for many people is the Nutcracker. The Ice Palace divertissements were choreographed to reflect a teenage girl's fantasies - of seeing the world, of handsome young men, of sexual awakening.

No more hornpipe, which is a bit of a shame, as Clara would probably have liked the sailor, but one of several highlights was a Kama Sutra-like Eastern dance with Leung Fei and Steven Bremner as the exotic lovers.

Another was the scene where Uncle Drosselmeyer entertains the children with his Punch-and-Judy theatre.

The dancers playing clockwork dolls were comically stiff, in a lovely ballet parody.

Peter Farmer's marvellous stage and costume designs created the strong sense of Victoriana that pervaded the production. It was the right mixture - lashings of nostalgia, neatly avoiding sickliness. So plenty of frills, but - thank goodness - no excessive cuteness, or dinky blue-and-white sailor suits.

As guests arrived for the Stahlbaums' Christmas Eve party, the stage became a Victorian Christmas card.

Little boys in knickerbockers threw snowballs outside a large house while snowflakes fell.

And the pandas who inexplicably featured in the previous Nutcracker have been allowed to return to their bamboo plantations: this is a traditional European story, with a marvellous fir tree that stretches with satisfaction as it is returned to the forest in Clara's dream.