Time Out Singapore: ‘The Nutcracker’ Review

The Singapore Dance Theatre has brought the iconic Christmas performance back to the main stage. In the hopes of finding herself in the production’s wintery spell Gwen Pew lands in a hit-and-miss affair.

A scene from Act II of 'The Nutcracker'. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

A scene from Act II of ‘The Nutcracker’. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

6 Dec 2013: There are few better ways to welcome the festive month of December than going to see The Nutcracker. Composed by the great Tchaikovsky and first performed in 1892, the ballet has become a Christmas staple in many dance companies across the world. Rather than setting it in Germany, however, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) has decided to reprise their 2011 production and bring the story to pre-WWI Shanghai. The plot remains largely unchanged though, and follows little Clara (Tania Angelina) through a dream-like journey, where she meets a colourful bunch of characters in the Land of Sweets under a spell cast by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (SDT’s ballet master, Mohamed Noor Sarman).

Overall, the production is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Some scenes and sequences are no doubt fantastic: the Chinese segment of the ‘Divertissement’ segment, featuring Iori Araya and Xu Lei Ting as Chinese Flowers, is interestingly interpreted and complete with a ribbon dance, and we are impressed by Rosa Park’s flawless performance of the famous ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. But one does get a sense, especially during big group numbers, that some of the ensemble members are not fully bringing out the emotions or splendour of their roles as much as they should. As a result, the dancing comes across as being somewhat mechanical in certain parts – which is a shame, as the choreography itself is beautifully crafted.

The set, designed by Aaron Yap, looks great in the first scene, which shows a busy street along the Bund, and the snowy finale of the first act is stunning – but it falters at the Land of Sweets. While the simple backdrop resembles the illustrations from a children’s book, it is too bare to depict the supposedly lavish magical kingdom. The upside, however, is that the eye-catching, intricate costumes, also created by Yap, are allowed to shine through.

But the aspect we found most confusing is exactly who the Nutcracker is, and why the show is named after him at all. In most productions, he comes to life under the spell of Drosselmeyer and takes Clara around, but in this production he barely seems to feature at all. There isn’t any indication that the Nutcracker is there – the character’s name is not even mentioned in the programme’s cast list – and the role of handsome tour guide is, instead, taken by Drosselmeyer himself. At the same time, however, there is no earlier sign that Drosselmeyer has any magical abilities, as there is a separate Magician (Jeremy Tan) at the dinner party in Act I.

In all, SDT’s production is by no means a flawless one, but it must be said that despite its shortcomings, it’s still an enjoyable year-end show to bring the family. It’s just that we know what the 25-year-old company is capable of (their Sleeping Beauty last year was phenomenal) and can’t help but wish that they could take The Nutcracker to the same soaring heights too.

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