Thursday, September 11, 2008

(D) The Nutcracker Ballet 2008 - Sept 6

Dance Space, a dancing school in Klang, founded by Datin Jane Ng in 1992, presented The Nutcracker Ballet 2008 last weekend at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac). The first production, Magic Shoes, two years ago, gave them the experience and confidence to produce their second. This time around, they looped in choreographer Steve Goh, winner of four BOH Cameronian Awards in 2007, and renowned music producer Chor Guan Ng to choreograph and compose for the ballet.

The Nutcracker ballet is based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice, written by Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, better known by his pen name E.T.A. Hoffman. He was a German Romantic author of fantasy and horror. Hoffmann’s stories were tremendously influential in the 19th century and he was one of the key authors of the Romantic Movement. The story is about a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and the fierce battle against the Mouse King with seven heads. Russian balletmasters Lev Ivanovich Ivanov (1834 – 1901) and Marius Ivanovich Petipa (1818 – 1910) were credited with choreographing the premiere of The Nutcracker in 1892.

To this day, this story is much loved and oft performed worldwide. Although there are different interpretations, the basic plot remains.

In Goh’s interpretation, the ballet traces a little girl’s experience and journey with a toy turned Prince during Christmas. During a fun Christmas party, Claire (Chew Zi Xin) receives a nutcracker toy as a present from a magician (Tan Chai Chen). Claire’s jealous sister snatched the toy and eventually broke it. Heartbroken, she places the toy aside and goes to sleep. She awoke in the middle of the night to see that her toy had turned into a Prince (Chen Fun Yen) and was being attacked by the King of Mice. Seeing that the Prince was badly outnumbered, she came to his rescue and fought off the King of Mice. Then, Clara and the Prince travelled through a snowy land in which they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, who welcomed them and entertained them with Chinese, Arabian, Spanish and Russian dances.

Goh’s neo-classical choreography was not technically difficult; which was ideal for this production because there were very few senior dancers, a lot of intermediate dancers and plenty of kids. However, the flow of the performance, the delightful costumes and wonderful props all created a fantasy wonderland that all kids, and even adults enjoyed. But this is how it should be, as The Nutcracker is, after all, a ballet designed for children.

The kids have plenty to do in the ballet, and they do it well. But even if they’ve missed a beat or a step, it is very easy to forgive because they all looked so adorable. One of the more memorable scenes was when the kids, dressed as dirty little brown mice, came out en masse to fight with the toys. The coordination work was very impressive for such a large group.

The older students performed the Grand pas items, dances that do not directly contribute to the ballet’s story. They were the snow princesses dressed in white tutus with sleeves of dangling tiny snow balls. They opened the scene impersonating snow on Christmas Eve, and the formed pathways for Claire and the Prince in the scene of snowy forests. Together, they formed very elegant figures offering smooth transitional entertainment for scene to scene continuity.

What made this production memorable were the minor characters. At the Christmas party, the magician brought out some life-size wind-up dolls to entertain the kids. The older performers managed the jerky motions of the dolls while keeping en pointe.

17-year old Chew was delightful to watch and proved dance-worthy of the principal role she took. Chew was almost flawless in terms of execution and she showed good showmanship with her brilliant smile. Together with Chen, they delivered several impressionable pas de duex (duet) items. Chew was also the better actor of the two.

As usual, there were shortage of danseurs (male dancers), and for the duets, Chew, Tan Yeong Kiean and Jensen Goi, were invited as guest dancers. Tan and Goi performed the Spanish dance.

There were two local ballet productions (including The Nutcracker Ballet 2008) within this year. The number of participants in each production is huge numbering at least 160 each. It would be exciting to have Malaysia’s first professional ballet company. And, I think the time is ripe enough to ask for one.

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