Feature: Nutcracker! Sadler's Wells

Friday 7 April 2006

Sadler’s Wells Dec 02 – Feb 03 and touring.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Sandberg

Matthew Bourne is a contemporary choreographer who likes to tell stories. Everything you see propels the plot forward. His dancers are such consummate actors that you sometimes get so swept up in the narrative you forget you’re watching a piece of dance.

Bourne’s ‘Nutcracker! is not the fairytale told at the ballet. He transposes the action to a Victorian orphanage run by cruel Dr. Dross. The heroine, Clara, is an orphan and it is her imagination that creates the gaudy, sugar-pink fantasyland of Act Two. Clara’s relationship with her fantastical Nutcracker is used by Bourne to explore her growth into adulthood and her burgeoning sexuality.

Her prince wants to bed her; but although she is prevented from doing so, she is tempted by various lascivious characters in Sweetieland. This includes a Knickerbocker Glory man whose head gear comprises a disturbingly phallic-looking ice-cream swirl topped by a cherry.

The designs by Antony Ward are an integral (even organic) part of the story. In Act Two, a large circular portal at the back of the stage frames a huge silver satin cushion. A large white feather emerges suggestively as Clara and her Nutcracker dance —- underlining their relationship just in case you hadn’t already got it.

Bourne makes numerous choreographic nods to The Nutcracker’s classical heritage but many more references to popular culture. My favourite happens in Act Two, when all his characters dance in unison à la Busby Berkeley on the tiers of a gigantic pink wedding cake.

Bourne says in his programme notes that he has ‘tried to tell a story for all the family’. Children will love the surface narrative: Clara succeeds against the odds, wins her prince and escapes the orphanage. For the adult audience Bourne suggests that there are darker elements to this Christmas favourite. Nevertheless, the whole thing is gift wrapped in a pantomime-like theatrical experience.

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