Of all of the holiday shows I’ve been anticipating, the one that was an absolute Must See was Matthew Bourne’s “Nutcracker.” This is because 1) the Nutcracker is a must, at least as long as I can keep seeing new versions of it and 2) I love Matthew Bourne’s choreography. So I arranged a block of four tickets (using both of the two for one vouchers I’d got with my renewed Sadler’s Wells membership) on a date in the middle of the “festive season” when my Canadian visitor would be able to accompany us.
To my surprise (and since I like to be surprised I often don’t read about a show at all beforehand), Bourne had completely reset the first half of the ballet. Instead of a party in which a bunch of spoiled children are given gifts and some dull adults dance insipidly while we all wait for The Suite Spot, Bourne set the show in an orphanage, in which the children are abused by the headmaster and headmistress and forced to dance for potential donors (who have presents for the children). The fights over the toys were much more story-driven, and while there was no Uncle Drossmeier, I didn’t find myself missing him at all as the children got into a huge fight and took the orphanage over from their captors – er, “caretakers.” It was great! It was exciting! And the redhaired “Nutcracker” doll looked JUST like a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquists dummy and was creepy as hell, so when he came to life, it was scary. Was he going to eat Clara? Was he going to beat up the kids in the orphanage? Anything seemed possible because we had gone so very far off script. The scene ended with what I think of as the snowflake dance (I can’t remember what it’s called right now), set as ice skating on a lake, with all of the orphanage residents recast as white clad skaters – and Clara fighting to get her nutcracker man back from a seductive other girl (the Carmen of CarMan, which I saw back in August).
Act 2 was also very much re-set, although it did have the series of themed dances for the “suites” – only there were only Spaniards left, no Russians or “Persians.” Instead we had a seductive (creepy) Yoga instructor, a motorcyle gang (the Russian dance), and a bunch of fluff headed, high-heeled chorines bouncing around and going to a party together. They all wound up in Sweetie land, which had a Busby Berkeley worth giant cake in the background, covered with all of the dancers, who proceeded to lick the cake and each other throughout the rest of the show. (This was really just too bizarre but I loved it, even though I had to keep watching the dancers hands and mouths to see what they were up to – it’s not the kind of thing I’m normally watching for during a ballet!) I was completely caught up in all of the sparkly costumes and rather hypnotic movement – yeah, Clara Nutcracker other characters, whatever, I was having a good time.
And the end, well, yes, there was an end, and it was great fun, and really, why haven’t you gone to see it already? I can easily imagine watching this again and it really just supports my entire love for Matthew Bourne. He supports my belief – perhaps he’s even created the belief – that these works of danceable music are every bit telling stories that are just as trancendant as any Shakespearean tale, and they can easily handle being reworked and updated and shuffled around and still tell a compelling, exciting, tale. The great thing about Bourne is that he also makes them very watchable and relevant. It’s a shame, really, the Ballet Boyz (and Chris Wheeldon) have recognized that ballet is losing its audience and must be updated – but they’re not managing to do it in a way that makes it relevant to people who don’t have ballet experience. Bourne absolutely makes great dance that really connects to people, right in the gut, with emotions that people can relate to, and all while following (though not slavishly) the story of these great ballets. I do really hope that ballet can manage to not become completely culturally irrelevant over my lifetime but if it does start to grow its audience again, it will be because of Matthew Bourne and not because of people who are doing beautiful, sterile choreography to Phillip Glass.
(This post is for a performance that took place Friday, December 29th.)