The Nutcracker reinvented with a very Aussie accent

Nutcracker – The Story of Clara. Photo: Supplied

Nutcracker – The Story of Clara. Photo: Supplied

Christmas comes early this year as the Australian Ballet stages Tchaikovsky’s festive classic. But this is no ordinary Nutcracker. Nicknamed the “Gumnutcracker” by the company’s artistic director, David McAllister, this legendary production from director Graeme Murphy puts a very Aussie accent on its Russian source material.

“It’s really an Australian story, more so than one about Christmas and parties,” David says.

“It uses that very Russian score to tell a story about the influence of Ballet Russes dancers who stayed in Australia, built schools, nurtured the love of ballet and started companies that evolved into the Australian Ballet. It’s about us telling our own story through ballet.”

Here, Clara is an elderly Russian emigre, recollecting her glory days in the Ballet Russes. Extraordinary staging, designed by the late Kristian Fredrikson, has a two-storey Fitzroy terrace open out to reveal a snowy St Petersburg streetscape. From there, clever stagecraft, filmed interludes and a time-travelling fashion parade help Clara traverse Spain, Arabia and China before settling into Melbourne.

In journeying from Imperial Russia to 1950s Australia, the production provides the Australian Ballet with the opportunity to cast dancers of all ages and stages. More than 20 children, recruited from the Conservatoire, will tread the boards each night, alongside company dancers past and present.

“It’s beautiful to have three generations of dancers together – the aspirants, the currents and the veterans, playing the emigres,” David says.

The Nutcracker, which debuted 25 years ago, was the first in Graeme Murphy’s series of reinventions of classic works. Commissioned for the Australian Ballet’s 30th anniversary, it bridged the gap between our sunburnt country and the art form’s European heritage.

“Some of the big classics are beautiful to do in their expected form. That’s what we did with The Sleeping Beauty [which returns to Melbourne in June], we didn’t try to stick a kangaroo in there,” David says. “But when you re-imagine these works, it’s an opportunity to do it through the lens of who we are.”

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