BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages

Tuesday 2 May 2017, 7:30pm, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

First created for The Australian Ballet in 1992, Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER - THE STORY OF CLARA is a beautiful expression of love, life, and friendship. Taking Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's iconic music and adapting the famous story for a new generation and telling the story of the birth of Ballet in Australia, Murphy's work satisfies those that prefer a degree of realism to their stories whilst still retaining the magic and mystery of E.T.A Hoffmann's original story.

Murphy's work (created with Janet Vernon, Creative Associate and Kristian Fredrikson, Concept) starts in Melbourne in the late 1950's, complete with streets filled with bickering children and the obligatory Hills Hoist. Clara is an older woman (Ai-Gul Gaisina), living a meagre life preparing to celebrate a quiet Christmas with a little tree decorated with the jewels of her youth when old friends from her days as a famous Russian ballerina visit with vodka, sweets and toys. Whilst they recall the dances they once performed Clara's young doctor (Kevin Jackson) arrives with a surprise of an archive film of Clara performing in with the Russian Imperial Ballet. As she retires to bed, following the doctor's orders, she slips into troubled dreams which eventually make way for memories of her youth, her lost love and her career from young girl (Amelia Soh) learning ballet at the Imperial Conservatorie to prima ballerina (Leanne Stojmenov) for the Imperial Ballet and the Ballets Russes which brings her to Australia.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Amelia Soh, Leanne Stojmenov and Ai-Gul Gaisina (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Fredrikson, as set and costume designer, has created a detailed opening scene to capture the working-class Melbourne where Clara has found herself. With a glimpse to the yards and streets, the stage is dominated by Clara's wallpapered humble home that has a shrine to her lost love and photos stuck to the walls of her upstairs bedroom. A sofa dressed with doilies sits beside the kitchen table which is home to a Bakelite radio. The transition from this space matches the chaos on Clara's mind as she's tormented by her dreams and hallucinations and the memories are presented with a degree of simplicity in contrast to the detail of her reality. The use of projections (Philippe Charluet, Film Collage) including a full stage projection of the Doctor's archive footage, help reinforce what Clara is experiencing in her mind as she remembers and helps lay out the passage of time as she journeys back through her life.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Amelia Soh as Young Clara and Natasha Kusen as Clara's Mother (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Murphy's work is refreshing in its use of both young and mature dancers for the students and Clara's friends. Clara's Émigré friends (Shane Carroll, Audrey Nicholls, Olga Tamara, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Graeme Hudson, Franco Leo and Colin Peasley) are given a fabulously fun series of dances where they recreate traditional dances and try to remember their performance days with the added challenge of seizing knees and reduced flexibility. The young children playing in the street outside Clara's home capture the spirit of youth with the timeless schoolyard taunts and bargaining and the students at the Conservatorie exhibit the discipline the Dance Master (Colin Peasley) is instilling in the young dancers.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Jarryd Madden as 'Nutcracker Prince and Leanne Stojmenov as Clara The Ballerina (Photo: Daniel Boud)

As the older Clara, Gaisina captures the Clara's loneliness as she prepares for Christmas alone, not expecting her friends to visit. As her former colleagues arrive, she expresses a joy but also apprehension as it is clear that the memories that come back aren't all good and she is started to be tormented by visions that have possibly visited her on previous nights. As she 'awakens' her fear, as she finds the Bolshevik Rats (led by Marcus Morelli) destroying her home is palpable and Fredrikson's costuming makes them even more imposing and the projections add to the chaos as she recalls losing her love, who looks remarkably like her doctor, in the Russian Revolution before she drawn into her memories of happier times. It is wonderful that the casting has ensured that Gaisina has both the technical ability to dance the role and the acting ability to convey the emotion with honesty and sensitivity, ensuring that Clara's fear isn't turned into a farce.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Kevin Jackson as Beloved Officer and Leanne Stojmenov as Clara The Ballerina (Photo: Daniel Boud)

As the younger Clara, Amelia Soh captures the eagerness and wonder of youth as she is taken to the Conservatoire. There is an earnestness as the young student wanting to do well. As the young students make way for the older graduates, again with a surreal transition, we meet Leanne Stojmenov as Clara the Ballerina. Stojmenov presents the bulk of Clara's story, capturing young love with the Tsarist officer (Kevin Jackson), being presented to the Tsar and Tsarina, and becoming a Prima Ballerina, performing the Sugar Plum Fairy in THE NUTCRACKER before her world falls apart when her officer is called to fight in the revolution in 1917, and her resulting refuge in dance as she tours with the Ballets Russes. With Clara's friends (Dimity Azoury and Jade Wood) and the Officer's friends (Brett Chynoweth and Cristiano Martino) Stojmenov and Jackson presents a beautiful expression of a playful courtship. The Royal ball captures the pre revolution opulence whilst Stojmenov and Jarryd Madden's ('Nutcracker Prince) Sugar Plum Fairy captures the beautiful traditional work.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Amy Harris as Tsarina Alexandra and Artists of The Australian Ballet (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Underpinning the whole work is Tchaikovsky's fabulous score, bought to life by the Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of Music Director and Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon. Fraillon ensures that the colour and shade of the music adds to the drama of the work, from the joyful romance to the ominous march of soldiers and the mysterious decent into dreams and nightmares as well as the whimsy of snow falling and the grandeur of the imperial ball.

BWW REVIEW: Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER – THE STORY OF CLARA Is Poignant And Beautiful Contemporary Tale For All Ages
Leanne Stojmenov as Clara The Ballerina with Artists of The Australian Ballet (Photo: Daniel Boud)

Visually beautiful in the performances and powerful in Fredrickson's set and costumes, Graeme Murphy's NUTCRACKER - THE STORY OF CLARA tells a heartbreaking story that gives the 19th Century Russian work a 20th century Australian relevance. He ties in historic events to ensure this is more than just a fairytale, giving it a humanity and reality that allows the audience to connect to the work whilst still having the glamour of traditional ballet and retaining ties to the original story. A stunning presentation that will delight audiences of all ages and appeal to both newcomers to the Ballet and seasoned subscribers.

NUTCRACKER - THE STORY OF CLARA

Sydney: 2 - 20 May 2017

Melbourne: 2 - 10 June 2017


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