Prove your humanity

On the opening night of the West Australian Ballet production of The Nutcracker, one may have been forgiven for thinking that it was Christmas. Beams of light lit up His Majesty’s Theatre, as artificial snow fell onto the red carpet. Adorned in their finest wear, overjoyed children grasped at snowflakes as parents and ballet enthusiasts chatted amongst themselves. The crowd hummed with anticipation and excitement.

Every time I come to His Majesty’s it feels like I’m seeing it for the first time. Originally constructed in the 1900s, the walls of the Edwardian theatre have delivered years of magical performances, including those performed by the West Australian Ballet.

Sadly, this was not one of them.

At first, I was in awe; barely able to contain my excitement, I glanced upon the orchestra beneath the stage, and the sea of young girls propped up on pillows.

The lights began to dim, as Belgium-born artistic director, Aurélien Scannella, introduced the night’s performance.

As a child I remember The Nutcracker as an enchanting tale about a girl whose doll comes to life but, as an adult, the magic was some-what overshadowed by the strangely confusing and semi-creepy storyline.

In the prologue, Uncle Drosselmeyer, who is played by Liam Green, is seen in his workshop creating toys for his niece and nephew, Clara and Fritz. Dressed in a brilliant purple cape, he dances gleefully across the stage with one of his creations.

At the families’ annual Christmas party, Drosselmeyer presents Clara with the Nutcracker doll, however, a jealous Fritz attempts to snatch it, knocking off its head. Thankfully, Drosselmeyer repairs the doll; having saved the day, he begins to dance with Clara—but, to be perfectly frank, the dynamic was a bit weird.

When the ballet commenced, I was so captivated by the stage design, the costumes, and the music, that, I completely forgot to read the synopsis. So throughout the first act, I was convinced that Drosselmeyer was some guy vying for Clara’s affection.

When the Stahlbaum’s party finishes everyone leaves and the family retires to bed. Everyone except Drosselmeyer, who is apparently lurking in the living room. Clara, who can’t sleep, sneaks down the stairs to find her Nutcracker doll, and consequently finds herself in a confrontation between pirate rats and toy soldiers. With the help of the Nutcracker doll, who is now the size of a person, the pair fend off the pesky rats. As they dance in celebration, the stage transforms, and the Snow Queen appears with her posse of snowflakes. She twirls gracefully around the stage, her snowflakes mirroring her every move, their long white dresses flowing in unison.

Uncle Drosselmeyer re-emerges with a sleigh, whisking Clara and the Nutcracker Prince away.

In act two, Drosselmeyer and Clara spend forty or so minutes watching an assortment of “sweets” dance around the stage. The costumes appeared to portray characters with Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and French backgrounds—some, more than others, were slightly unsettling.

The Nutcracker Prince re-joins the stage, but it’s the Sugar Plum Fairy who is most captivating.

Matthew Lehmann and Claire Voss, as the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Claire Voss, who plays both the Fairy and the Snow Queen, flows gracefully across the stage, capturing the hearts of those who dare not look away. Her elegant bedazzled tutu appears frozen in time as she pirouettes.

The vibrant stage design, choreography, and (most of) the costumes, almost bring the story of the Nutcracker to life—it’s just not the story I so fondly remember.

Looking though the innocent eyes of a child, anything is possible, but try as I might, I just couldn’t feel the love.

Perhaps in the 1800s, when this story was created, it was normal to leave the house in the middle of the night, with an uncle that you barely knew. Perhaps it was normal that he would escort you, and a man twice your age, around some “mythical” land on a sleigh. And perhaps in the 1800s it was acceptable to reinforce insensitive cultural stereotypes with costumes.

But in a post-“MeToo” world, where we are now, finally, collectively questioning what is and is not acceptable behaviour, perhaps traditional interpretations of The Nutcracker need to be reconsidered.

The performance of the West Australian Ballet and the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra—who I would have watched on their own—was, in my eyes, without fault. But sadly, it wasn’t quite enough to overpower the feeling of discomfort that left me with a lingering, bad taste.