Nutcracker with a Hong Kong flavour

December 27, 2023 09:03
“Chinese Dance”   (Photo: Tony Luk)

If it is Christmas, it must be “The Nutcracker”. The top ballet companies in New York, London, Paris, and other dance capitals are all performing at this year-end this Tchaikovsky classic which was premiered by the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg in 1892. In my experience Balanchine’s version for the New York City Ballet is the greatest of all.

This Christmas season Hong Kong Ballet’s “Nutcracker” has a longer run than usual. This present production by artistic director Septime Webre was premiered in 2021. This year I am again impressed by Webre’s transformation of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann’s libretto adapted by Alexandre Dumas to create a genuine Hong Kong version of “Nutcracker”.

Webre’s adaptation works better in Act 2 than in Act 1. In Act 1, the beautiful colonial era interior reminds me of the Hong Kong Club. The stage action is however too busy with too much detail crammed in, including minor characters representing Sun Yat Sen and Soong Ching Ling. Nevertheless the Monkey King as one of the dolls is unexpected and good fun. The part with the party guests enjoying mahjong games adds a nice local flavour. The battle scene for the mice and the toy soldiers is tame, and it is difficult to discern any connection with the legendary local pirate Cheung Po Tsai as mentioned in the programme notes.

More importantly the growth of the Christmas tree to a gigantic size is not magical and spectacular enough to elicit a sense of wonder from the children. And though it may be practical to add a lead couple for the snow scene, it does not feel right to see this new couple dance the duet at the end of Act 1. This duet should be an emotional resolution danced by Clara and the Nutcracker Prince after she has saved his life.

In Act 2 the Kingdom of the Sweets has been replaced by a spring celebration, and the national dances have been converted to showcase the unique heritage of Hong Kong. Particularly imaginative is the Chinese dance which now depicts the Cheung Chau Bun Festival and includes a lion dance. The Arab dance is now a duet for the White Snake and the scholar and works well. The Mother Dim Sum is a clever adaptation of the original Mother Ginger dance.

It is sensible of Webre to retain some of the original choreography. I am glad that the original mime by the Nutcracker prince narrating his rescue by Clara is included. And the grand pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier is based on Ivanov’s original choreography.

In the first cast, Ye Feifei was radiant and graceful in this great duet. Her cavalier was Alexander Yap whose virtuosity was dazzling. Wei Wei had dignity as Clara’s father, while Luis Torres was authoritative as the magician Tao Sifu (Drosselmeyer). Yang Ruiqi shone as the Snow Queen.

The whole company provided good supporting performances. Hong Kong Sinfonietta played beautifully under the baton of Faycal Karoui. This year’s viewing confirms my view that this is Hong Kong Ballet’s best production of “Nutcracker” in the past three decades.

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veteran dance critic