There is magic crackling through the air of the Opera House in this production of “The Nutcracker”. It is definitely a ballet for all ages. I dislike Christmas but this seemed to offer the promise that it could be like Mária’s experience, elevated out of this commercial world of greed and shattered visions and into the realms of a fantastical and sensational dream or maybe magical reality. Who knows?
Tamás Solymosi and world-renowned Wayne Eagling have worked jointly on the choreography to set it alight to the orchestral score of Tchaikovsky. This is the first time for the Hungarian National Ballet to have such a specialist of high status as Eagling construct a choreography created specifically for the individual dancers, working on their personalities and their strengths.
From the opening, the beautifully crafted set design by Beáta Vavrinecz transforms scenes swiftly, effortlessly from a snowy outdoor ice rink into the lavish setting of Mária’s home complete with elegantly decorated Christmas tree and lavish costumes. The three-dimensionality of the set is complete to perfection, from the outside of the house set against a winter backdrop to the forest winter wonderland with the elegant Waltz of the Snowflakes where the dancers disappear through the background, appearing to ascend one by one in a graceful chain in this Land of Snow.
As the young Mária dreams with her favourite toy, the Nutcracker Prince beside her on Christmas Eve, everything in the house morphs into fantastical and nightmarish proportions. The Mouse King has grown into an attacker with his army of mice while the toy soldiers arise from their fortress to defend the house, led by the Nutcracker Prince. I am glad he quickly sheds those scary teeth as Mária is torn in a sinister dance between a spooky nutcracker doll that comes to life and a frightening red-eyed Mouse King.
The ever-changing scenery is magnificent and effortlessly transforms from wintery scenes to a mysterious underground cavern, where Mária travels through with her now-handsome Nutcracker Prince in a boat to reach his mythical land of ice and snow.
The most beautiful scenes are those set in a winter wonderland of snowflakes and ice crystals as Mária encounters first the wintery forest and then the magical land of the Snow Crystal Palace.
The Snow Crystal Palace, a frosty beautiful kingdom constructed of ice crystals, is where Mária is now princess and entertained by different elegantly choreographed dances, all markedly diverse and showing the dancers’ amplitude to the maximum. The grand pas de deux between Mária and her prince is the highlight, a beautiful elegant love duet in glittering gold.
The brilliance of the ballet does not overpower Tchaikovsky’s at times very delicate musical score. He was initially afraid of this when composing the music. But the orchestral score rises and falls, becoming as delicate as falling ice crystals with Mária’s dancing and gathering pace and energy, becoming stronger with the other dances.
As she is returned to her own house for the finale, she doesn’t know if the Christmas magic she experienced was real or just a fantastical dream. The dramatic scene changes set a real pace to this ballet, together with its compact running time of less than three hours. Nothing drags in this production as the two acts are divided with such perfection, leaving you wanting more.
Hungarian National Ballet
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
Until Wednesday December 30
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