The Australian Ballet in Nutcracker - The Story of Clara. Photo - Branco Gaica.
It’s Christmas in June with Graeme Murphy’s much loved Nutcracker - The Story of Clara back on stage. Commissioned in 1992, this unconventional telling of the classic ballet won audiences over with its distinctly Australian context and its exciting storytelling. This current revival is especially pertinent since 2009 is the final year of The Australian Ballet’s Ballet Russes research project.
Murphy’s story revolves around Clara, an aging Russian ballerina living in Australia and her fever-induced flashbacks on a sweltering Christmas Eve. Moving from the present to the past in a seamless and satisfying way, the two act ballet is a meaty, engaging story, so much more so than the sugar and spice frothiness of the original. It manages to tell a sweeping tale merging Russian history with the development of Clara from a ballet student at the Imperial Conservatoire to a dancer with the Imperial ballet and finally a member of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, which allowed her to travel the world, eventually settling in Australia. Along the way she finds and loses love, experiences the effects of war and ultimately ends up with a financially modest but culturally and socially rich life.
Everything works about this production – the narrative development, the fantastic multi-faceted set designed by Kristian Fredrikson, the mix of character and folkloric dance with ballet pas de deux and ensemble work and the contemporary edge to the choreography. There is so much diversity in the work and all the aspects are so well integrated – the production flows beautifully and none of its various textures and elements feels gratuitous.
Murphy represents Clara’s life through three dancers – Marilyn Jones is the Elder, Lucinda Dunn is the Ballerina and Mia Heathcote is the child. Even though Dunn has the most substantial dancing, each role is crucial to the story. They are all sensational – Jones for her mature beauty and depth of character, Dunn for her phenomenal pas de deux work with both Robert Curran and Paul Knobloch and Heathcote for her portrayal of pure innocence and hopeful youth. Murphy successfully directs a switching between the generations and creates symbolic moments in which they all appear together to represent the complete Clara in all her different dimensions.
Nutcracker – The Story of Clara is a uniquely Australian nutcracker. From the hills hoist outside Clara’s apartment and the kids skipping rope in front of it, to her Russian Émigré friends celebrating Christmas on a hot summer’s night, it encapsulates an immigrant experience so familiar to this country. While Murphy’s story is fictitious, there is much historical fact within it. After all, it was European migrants, many of them Russian, that crucially shaped both ballet and modern dance in Australia.
This cohesive production has everything – humour, history, breathtaking choreography, diverse characters, beautiful design and emotional highs. I’ve never been much of a Nutcracker fan, but this version had me looking forward to returning after interval just to see what was going to happen next. I was truly swept up, captivated by Clara’s journey. Murphy, creative associate Janet Vernon and all collaborators have made an enduring work. Seventeen years on from its premiere and Nutcracker – The Story of Clara is still a great yarn, with technical and design components of the highest quality.
The Australian Ballet presents
Nutcracker: The Story of Clara
Venue: the Arts Centre, State Theatre
Dates: 5 June – 18 June.
Tickets: $36 -$142 (a booking fee may apply and proof of age may be required for concession tickets)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 | www.ticketmaster.com.au