It’s a solid a tradition as mince pies on every supermarket shelf, fairy lights strung on every piece of furniture, and shops cranking out the same old festive songs (with a few dreadfully weak new ones for good measure)—the putting on of a production of The Nutcracker means that Christmas is just around the corner. But traditions don’t have to be tiresome or unwelcome, and Scottish Ballet’s revived production is anything but.
This interpretation of The Nutcracker (which surely has a good case to make as one of the most popular classical ballets) was devised in 1973 by Peter Darrell, Scottish Ballet’s founding artistic director, and was performed almost constantly until 1996 (when the original costumes were literally hanging by a thread). The company regrouped and commissioned a re-designed version of the ballet in 2014, which, three years later, is staged once again.
Is another staging necessary, relatively soon after the re-debut? Arguably not. But whether this is necessary is utterly unimportant. What Scottish Ballet deliver is charming, accomplished and completely transporting: a festive box of delights, to be unpacked and enjoyed, over and over again.
One of the most striking aspects of the production is the use of real children (unheard of back in the 70s) to play Clara, Fritz and the rest of the attendees at the opening party. Despite the fantastical second act, this grounds the whole work, and the ballet is the better for it. Children run around, get over-excited, steal toys, cry, and apologise sulkily—all danced with a beautifully light touch. Framing the story through the eyes of a real child, as opposed to an adult pretending to be one, also allows the Nutcracker, the Arabian dancer and the Sugar Plum Fairy to seem even more like the glorious dreams of Clara’s wonderfully imaginative young brain—a thought that only heightens the enjoyment of the second act, with all its famous melodies and skilled dances.
The interpretation is light at heart—the Rat King is easily defeated and Drosselmeyer is wonderfully benevolent, with no secret dark purpose (and, it must be added, a bewitching, glitter-strewn blue cloak). But a little lightness, especially these days (although it is becoming a depressingly common thing to add) is no bad thing.
The distinctive staging of each scene presents a gorgeous contrast—the plush, heavy, velveted drawing room, with smart military uniforms and silk bustles, gives way to a snow covered winter wonderland, which in turn becomes a richly hued red-purple-pink-gold extravaganza of baubles, framed like a circular window. A handy metaphor, perhaps, for the whole performance—a window into a world where events are playful, energetic, richly portrayed and exquisitely executed. An ideal pick-me-up from the slog that the festive season can often feel like!
Photos: Kenny Mathieson