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Friday,  Dec 15,2017,22:43 (GMT+7)

Nutcracker heralds the Christmas season

Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Nov 29,2017,18:10 (GMT+7)
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Nutcracker heralds the Christmas season

Bradley Winterton

Christmas is coming, and so is HBSO’s Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s famous 1892 ballet associated with the festive season all around the world.

The story, sometimes difficult to follow, concerns an aristocratic Russian family who stage a party on Christmas Eve. A character called Drosselmeyer brings some dolls as presents for the family’s daughter, Clara, including a wooden nutcracker, a small device used for cracking nuts. After the party guests have gone home the clock strikes midnight and Clara sees her dolls come to life, including the nutcracker which eventually becomes transposed into a handsome Prince. Mice, gingerbread soldiers and the famous Sugar Plum Fairy also feature in this new, fantasy world.

The next scene takes place in a moonlit pine forest with snow falling. The scene then changes to a fabulous Land of Sweets, and dancers representing culinary delights from around the world – coffee from Arabia, chocolate from Spain and tea from China – perform for the benefit of their young visitor.

The most famous item is the Grand Pas de Deux (great dance for two). Tchaikovsky is reputed to have been challenged to write a melody that only consisted of a descending scale and this was the result. In fact Verdi had already composed just such a melody for his heroine Gilda in his opera Rigoletto, and it can be heard in her aria ‘Caro nome’ (dear name).

The fact that HBSO are staging this ballet for three performances on December 8, 9 and 10 testifies to its popularity with Saigon theater-goers. The Norwegian conductor Magnus Loddgard returns to conduct. He conducted Nutcracker in Saigon in 2012, and also Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) here in 2013 and 2014.
This will be a fully-staged performance, with a huge array of dancers, elaborate scenery and the whole HBSO Symphony Orchestra. Such shows are on such a scale that the front row of the stalls seats often has to be removed to make way for the musicians.

The HBSO Ballet is one of the organization’s greatest strengths. It is very strong in all areas, and one of its two regular choreographers, Nguyen Phuc Hung, is acting as assistant choreographer on this occasion. The original choreographer, and the person who imagined the entire production, is another Norwegian, Johanne Jakhelln Constant. She was also responsible for two other magnificent ballet productions in Saigon, Cinderella and Coppelia.

Nutcracker is also widely known by its French title, Casse noisette. French is the commonest language in use for ballet terminology, and interestingly was also the official language of Russia’s imperial court at the time of this ballet’s composition.

The Nutcracker is frequently seen as a ballet of special interest to children. This is only partly true. It’s certainly the case that battles between mice and gingerbread soldiers, and the coming to life of a damaged nutcracker, may be more readily understood by imaginations not yet dominated by adult ideas of “reality”. But it’s also the case that the beautiful scenery – the resplendent bourgeois reception room, the snowy pine forest, the land of the sweets – plus the often very familiar music and the huge array of dancers on display, can appeal to all ages.

Tchaikovsky is the pre-eminent composer of ballet music. Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are both also great dance classics, and have proved immune to the depredations of time. Prokofiev’s Cinderella and Delibes’ Coppelia may also be hugely popular, but note for note it’s Tchaikovsky who emerges as the undisputed king of ballet composition. This, in other words, is a production not to be missed.

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