The Nutcracker

1 and 2 December, Napier Municipal Theatre
By Kura Rutherford

Their hair is done up with dad’s hair gel, and they shined their shoes especially. They’re closely guarding their bag of toffees, and waiting, waiting.

Waiting for the music, snow, sparkles, tulle, a glimpse of their dancing friends, and a fairy tale. It’s a tradition; all far, far outside the realms of normal life, and that’s part of the beauty of the Nutcracker.

The Napier Municipal Theatre is packed. This is the first time in eight years that the Royal New Zealand Ballet have produced the Nutcracker, and the children can barely wait another moment. They know the story inside out, and can tell you if you want. A girl, Marie, receives a magical Nutcracker from her uncle Drosselmeier at a Christmas party. The Nutcracker turns into a prince and takes her on a grand adventure to the Land of Sweets. The story comes so vibrantly to life with Tchaikovsky’s music and accompanying dance, that the children understand it all without a word of storytelling.

The curtain opens to Tchaikovsky’s Overture and a row of timbered houses and snow fall. The walls of the houses fade in and out, showing a lit-up workshop, and Herr Drosselmeier carving the Nutcracker, and in another house, Marie getting ready for the Christmas party. It looks three dimensional – a new kind of theatre, created through screens and projection. The magic had begun.

Each act has a distinct flavour; at the Christmas party, a simple stage is filled with antics and dancing. At the Land of Snow, dark fir trees enclose the dancers in a circle of light, and snow – lots of snow – floats down. In the marzipan castle the celebration of nations takes place in a classical, high-ceilinged room. We see the versatility of the dancers here; Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, China tea, French pastilles, bon bons, Russian caviar, and a special kiwi addition of the Dew Drop Fairy, and Pōhutukawa blossoms, as well as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Then Marie is home again.

The lollies are gone, the best clothes are crumpled, and all-too-soon the dream is over – until next time.

Unlike the innovative 2010 production, this is a traditional interpretation by choreographer Val Caniparoli, costume designer Pat Barker, and lighting designer Michael Auer. There are many sublime moments – the Snowflake Waltz and the Pōhutukawa dances were special highlights – but some aspects of the show did fall short.

When the set worked, like in the opening scene, it brought staging to a new level, but at other times felt a bit stuck in a clunky transition between the physical and the virtual. The costume design also had a lack of cohesion. Individually, most of the costumes were stunning, but they didn’t always work together; pink with red, lilac with navy blue, polka dots with tulle. This meant that some partnerships and groupings didn’t visually gel.

But still, we would all come back every year to this if we could, to be taken for a few hours through music and dance to a land of snow, dancing lollies, a marzipan castle, and an enchanted Nutcracker.

Like all good traditions, The Nutcracker is an anchor point, packed with connotations and stories, this time reminding us to see the world through our children’s eyes, and to carry some of the magic – the pure fantastical joy of it – with us into the busy holiday season.

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