New Nutcracker production well danced, but lacks magic
Hong Kong Ballet
Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
After 15 years, Hong Kong Ballet have laid aside Stephen Jefferies' production of The Nutcracker and introduced a new version choreographed by Terence Kohler, a young Australian who is resident choreographer of Munich's Bavarian State Ballet.
The Ballet might have done better to go for something different rather than another Nutcracker. The new production neither measures up to the previous one nor shines on its own merits. That will not stop people buying tickets - The Nutcracker at Christmas is money in the bank - and no doubt children will still enjoy it, but as a major new production of a classic it is a disappointment.
Kohler and his dramaturge Clair Sauran have changed the plot to make it closer to the original tale by E.A. Hoffmann. The main innovation is that in her dream Clara enters a dolls' house which is one of her Christmas gifts and the Christmas party is held by the dolls instead of the family. The theme is continued by having dolls perform the Act 2 national dance divertissements.
The ideas are fine, the execution another matter. The designs are mostly excellent. The story, on the other hand is confused, poorly told and misses every key point needed to develop narrative and character. The Nutcracker should be magical and Christmassy - this is neither.
The nutcracker toy is introduced in such an offhand way it isn't even noticeable and is given not to Clara but her brother, so her later attachment to the live Nutcracker makes no sense. The magician/inventor Drosselmeyer's appearance is reduced to a few minutes and instead of a figure of mystery he is portrayed as a jolly young man, making the character meaningless. The Waltz of the Snowflakes and rejoicing at the mouse army's defeat take place with the Nutcracker lying dead at the front of the stage - a bizarre way to behave, as indeed is Clara dancing a romantic pas de deux with her brother.
Act 2 fares better, as coherent narrative is less important and the focus is on the dancing. The national dances are lively and entertaining and the Waltz of the Flowers attractive. However, Kohler's choreography never rises above competent and occasionally falls below - parts of the grand pas de deux looked downright awkward - and fails to respond to Tchaikovsky's score with the musicality it calls for.
After the beginning of Act 1, the company was in good form, dancing with precision in the ensemble sequences and bringing brio to the national dances. Li Ming made an exquisite Clara, Ricky Hu was by turns hilarious and sinister as the doll Grandfather and there was outstanding work from Wu Fei-fei, Ye Fei-fei and Li Lin.