Matthew Bourne offers a new twist on a classic

TCHAIKOVSKY’S ballet The Nutcracker is nearly 130 years old, so what keeps it fresh for modern fans?

You might expect the award-winning contemporary choreographer who is bringing his take on one of the composer’s most popular works to Woking to take some of the credit.

Dancers bring Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet The Nutcracker to life in a fresh new show entitled Nutcracker! choreographed by Matthew Bourne. Pictures by Johan Persson

But Matthew Bourne is having none of it. “I’m convinced that the main reason that The Nutcracker has retained its perennial appeal is because of Tchaikovsky’s incredible score,” he says.

“Act one contains some of his most engaging and, at times, profound, story-telling music and act two has one glorious melody after another.

“After 130 years it retains its mystery, magic, and the power to transport us to another world.”

The story varies in different productions, but the basic tale is about dolls and a nutcracker coming to life on Christmas Eve and young girl Clara’s bid to help in the ensuing conflict.

“Some Nutcrackers can be a little tricky to understand but our version tells a simple story very clearly,” says the man who was knighted in 2016 for services to dance.

“It’s a wish fulfilment story, a story with a heroine who has a lot to overcome and who eventually wins through. It’s about growing up and first love and these are things everyone can relate to. I think this is why it remains so popular with all members of the family.

A Cupid in pyjamas dancing in Matthew Bourne’s version of The Nutcracker

Bourne gave his version, Nutcracker!, a twist when New Adventures, the dance-theatre company he co-founded, started performing it by setting it in an orphanage rather than a warm family home.

“We always wanted to find something that, in certain key ways, reflected the piece that people knew,” he explains. “Most Nutcrackers are completely different to ours and sometimes difficult to follow but we wanted to create a story that had its own logic whilst delivering all the iconic Nutcracker highlights.

“Our first thought was to reject the large, overpopulated, present-filled family Christmas party, which normally opens the classical version, feeling that this rather privileged atmosphere may already represent something of a fantasy to many of our audience!

Another angelic performer dances through “Sweetieland”

“Picking up on the tradition of including very young dancers in most Nutcracker productions, we decided to set the production in a Dickensian orphanage. All the young inmates are played by adult dancers, celebrating a rather modest Christmas Eve party, overseen by the fearsome Dr and Mrs Dross and their terribly spoilt children, Fritz and Sugar.

“This darker/monochrome world in the act one orphanage gave us an exhilarating release into the silvery white expanse of the Frozen Lake at the end of act one and, even more so, into the colourful explosion that is Sweetieland in act two.”

One thing he definitely didn’t want to change was the famous Snowflakes sequence which ends act one, saying: “There are certain things that every production of Nutcrackershould deliver, the magical growing Christmas Tree, the transformation of the Nutcracker into a handsome young man… and the falling of the snow during the Snowflakes sequence.

“Everyone feels a sense of childlike pleasure when snow begins to fall, and I wanted to try and capture that sense of pure joy seen through the eyes of the orphan children.

“So, rather than depict the snowflakes themselves, as in the classical version, I have our orphans, who have escaped from the orphanage, skating across a frozen pond as an uplifting expression of their newfound freedom.

“The idea, however, came not from Torvill and Dean, much as I love them, but from the 1930s movie musical skating star Sonja Henie, who suggested much of the choreography for this memorable sequence. For me, she is the perfect image of Princess Sugar and Anthony Ward certainly found inspiration in her many and varied skating ensembles.”

* Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! will be performed by New Adventures at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, from Tuesday 19 April to Saturday 23 April.

Recommended For You

About the Author: Editorial Team