The story appears on

Page A13

November 12, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

'Nutcracker' meets 'Black Swan'

THE classical "Nutcracker" ballet meets "Black Swan" film thriller in a "Nutcracker Magic" extravaganza that combines ballet and acrobatics to depict the dream of an exhausted young ballerina. Andrea O'Neil reports.

When Ric Birch says his new adaptation of "The Nutcracker" was inspired by psychological thriller film "Black Swan," he does not mean it's unsuitable for families with children. Rather, the world-famous creative producer has reworked the classical ballet's story line around the stress and pressure of the ballet world, which "Black Swan" (2010) also explores.

Rather than main character Clara dreaming after cutting her elbow at a Christmas party, as in the original, Birch's lead Maria hallucinates from exhaustion leading up to a ballet competition.

"It starts off as a girl who's very ambitious, wants to be in a dance competition," Birch says. "Drosselmeyer [Clara's godfather in the original story] is the judge of auditions at the ballet studio where Marie is passed over in favor of King, who gets the final ticket to the international dance competition. And Marie is brokenhearted, sobbing, left alone in the studio. All the other students leave, commiserating - that's when the dream sequence begins."

This new plot was cooked up by Birch and "Nutcracker Magic" artistic director Liu Jun, a former ballerina, around the time "Black Swan" was released. "For Jun, it was much more than just a film about ballet because she remembered what it was like to be a student and the pressure, just the unrelenting work and the exercise and the tiredness and the pain and the bleeding feet and all the rest of it," Birch says.

"So very early on when we were developing this, she said 'Marie should be a ballet student.' And from that pressure and from just that grinding tiredness and work, she said 'that's where these visions are coming from'."

Classical ballet is no untouchable art form to Australian-born Birch, who made his name with producing and directing Olympic Games opening ceremonies, including Beijing's in 2008. "The traditional arts of ballet and opera in the West are treated as kind of these sacred cows, that you can't mess with them. You can! They're not sacred cows to me," he says.

"One, there's no Christmas tradition [in China] so there's no association with 'Nutcracker,' and there's no real knowledge of 'Nutcracker,' so why should we try and enforce a story that was written in 1821? And secondly ...why do we have to do a 200-year-old story?"

Birch said he and artistic director Liu went to Beijing and saw the China National Ballet's version of "Nutcracker," which he called "very traditional, exactly like the original. We were both very bored and said, 'well, we don't want to do that'."

The show promises to be a spectacular affair, with a cast of 14 ballet dancers and 70 acrobats.

In another departure from the traditional plot, "Nutcracker Magic's" second act takes place on a cruise ship, the setting for the dance competition, into which young Marie has managed to secure entry. This setting was partly conceived as an opportunity to use an impressive water-fountain stage at the newly reopened Shanghai Culture Square on Fuxing Road.

Audiences can expect a visual feast that mixes Western and Eastern dance and performance art. Acrobats twist themselves round hoops to mimic Chinese knots. Young boys juggle hats, a traditional Chinese trick. And of course there is plenty of classical ballet to please the purists.

"Color and movement's what we're after," Birch says. "Hopefully it's the right synthesis between East and West, showing the best of each. And that for me is the reason for doing it. I wouldn't have come here just to do a (standard) version of 'The Nutcracker.' But the chance to come and create something relatively new and original is hard to beat."

Show with Shanghai touch

Music-wise, the familiar Tchaikovsky score is largely retained, but with some new compositions by An Dong added to reflect the new plot line. "The opening scene of Act Two is set in Shanghai port, and there was no music in Tchaikovsky that really worked, so we wrote a new piece," Birch says.

As in any ballet, the music in "Nutcracker Magic" is without lyrics, which is where Birch's expertise in opening ceremonies comes into play. His experience in ceremonies (six for the Olympics) is useful because the shows seldom use lyrics or spoken words to tell a story. Since the audience is international they communicate a story to the world on an emotional connection "without having to talk about it, just sheerly by the look, the sets, the costume, the lighting and the music.

"And that's exactly what we do in 'Nutcracker'," Birch says.

Of course, this wordless art form means the show will appeal to all ages and nationalities. "Kids will get it ... but at the same time it's very stylish, it's elegant, it's sophisticated, and a lot of the thoughts in it and emotions in it are sophisticated enough for adults to be intrigued," he says.

Birch began his career in Australia as a television documentary producer. A job organizing a ceremony for Australia's ABC station led to him directing the 1982 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Brisbane, And since then he has produced and directed Olympic opening ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1984, in Barcelona in 1992, the hand-over ceremony in Atlanta in 1996, the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Winter Olympics in Turin in 2006 and, of course, Beijing three years ago. He also created Shanghai Expo's opening ceremony last year. His work has seen him make temporary homes in Mexico, Italy, China and Turkey. "I just can't settle," he laughs.

"Nutcracker Magic" has just a 10-day run this year, but will return in January for several months. Birch has no idea what project he will tackle when the show winds down. "I don't know. I wish I could say I plan my career, but I haven't. I never know what's going to happen."

However, he is keen to further explore the mix of traditional and modern that "Nutcracker Magic" exemplifies. "We happened to have fluked onto a hybrid - 'art form' may be too grand a name for it, but it's a different sort of musical," he says.

Date: Through November 20, 2:30pm and 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Culture Square, 597 Fuxing Rd (near Maoming Rd)

Tickets: 80-880 yuan (US$13-138)

Tel:6232-8310 or 6472-9000


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend