So I made it to the Matthew Bourne ?Nutcracker!? at Berkeley?s Cal Performances the other night. This was the version that premiered at the 1992 Edinburgh Festival, years before Britain?s Bourne found fame with his all-male ?Swan Lake.? That ?Swan Lake? has never visited San Francisco, and this ?Nutcracker!? is having a tough time building an audience in the Bay Area, as Tuesday?s turnout proved.
Reviewing for the Chronicle, Michael Wade Simpson passionately disliked the production, while the DanceView Times? Rita Felciano was none too tickled. Appearing in the San Jose Mercury News, Mary Ellen Hunt?s reaction was more forgiving. The Oakland Tribune?s Chad Jones also warmed to it. And Voice of Dance’s Allan Ulrich found it “one of the supreme joys of the season.
My own quick-and-dirty take is that this ?Nutcracker!? is enjoyable despite serious flaws in dramatic logic. Here?s the low-down on Bourne?s twists: The first-act takes place in an Edward Gorey-esque orphanage run by the Drosses. Clara, played with hangdog sympathy by Kerry Biggin, has a crush on one of her fellow inmates, Philbert. After some grotesque dancing by the Drosses? own chocolate-mouthed children, Clara discovers the Nutcracker doll. He comes to life in her dream, blonde plastic hair gleaming, cracks open the walls of the orphanage, and transforms into a Chippendale-worthy Philbert dressed in white trousers and suspenders.
And here?s where the heart of the story stops beating: Once arrived in Sweetieland, Clara?s prince falls for the Drosses? witchy daughter, dolled up in pink a la the Sugarplum Fairy. And throughout the whole second act Clara tries, in vain, to win him back.
It gives her dramatic motivation, you might say, but it also violates the spirit of the music. Tchaikovsky?s grand pas de deux is such a surging, overwhelming statement of new love?but now it?s danced by the Prince and Sugar, whose alliance we?re rooting against. And the central joke of Sweetieland?that its inhabitants are lewd in their appetites for sex as well as candy?gets old fast.
The choreography ranged from rote to, especially in the pas de deux, fluent and rather better than competent. The ice-skating frolic that stood in for the usual snowflake scene had clever touches?the dancers shake their skirts while standing with one leg in attitude, foot flexed, as though they?re sailing through the wind. And of course the over-the-top stage designs by Anthony Ward were enough to keep my eye entertained. But this ?Nutcracker!? is not about to supplant Mark Morris?s ?The Hard Nut? in anybody?s heart, I wager.