AN undemanding seasonal treat for adults and a simple and entrancing introduction to ballet for children. That’s the enduring magic of Nutcracker, isn’t it?
Along comes Ashley Page and all is changed. The choreographer took a long look at the Hoffman fairy story upon which the original libretto was based and found the dark, psychologically challenging side which exists in most such tales. It is a Nutcracker for grown-ups. Children might find it a shade too unsettling.
To suit his conclusions, Page relocates the work from the warm and twinkly 19th Century Germany we have grown to expect and love to the brittle uncertainty of the Weimar Republic between the fall of Kaiser Bill and the arrival of Adolf Hitler.
This was an age of great change, of almost frenetic adoption of the new and the appearance of Sigmund Freud and exploration of the mind.
Page’s conception takes all this and pulls it together in the story of a young girl’s painful transition from childhood to adulthood.
There is only a thin veil between Marie Stahlbaum’s dream world and reality. Her manipulative uncle Drosselmeyer – in reality the writer Hoffman – literally gets into her head to control what she sees.
We are assailed by these visions. There are the traditional mice and snowflakes, but a fair bit nastier than we are used to. Other surreal images appear and are initially inexplicable, only gradually understandable as the story unfolds.
This is my interpretation. As with a non-narrative piece of contemporary dance, it is up to you to decide what it means for you. This is a very bold move by Page and marks this Nutcracker out as special and important.
Oh, we do get the achingly beautiful Petipa pas de deux at the end as a homage to the original. Like the rest of the work, it is wonderfully performed. This is the bit the kids will love.