BWW Reviews: TERRACOTTA PRINCE A Fresh Take on Nutcracker

My mother took me to the ballet when I was young. I came home with a souvenir bouquet and would not stop listening or dancing to the score, imagining a giant Christmas tree and those nasty rats scurrying across my living room floor. I like to imagine the magic of theatre and the arts creating that same wonder for people all over the world.

Different countries have different traditions but share a common marvel in the arts. As my program from Saturday night's performance of "Nutcracker: The Terracotta Prince" notes, "Although the original Nutcracker was first performed during the Christmas season, the ballet is considered primarily a holiday entertainment only in America." How to translate an American tradition to other nations and then bring that tradition back in a new light? Dennis Nahat of Theatre Ventures International and the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe had an idea, one that made its American premiere in time for the holidays last week.

Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" often becomes such a spectacle (with even a burlesque version or two in existence); one wonders why the holiday classic was not turned into an acrobatic act years ago. Perhaps you never thought of it before. Yet at the suggestion, something starts. Yes. Yes, that could work quite well. And it does, if only its ill-behaved audience would learn some etiquette.

Wang Yi Rui and Zou Yu play the young Marie and her prince in this Chinese acrobatic version of the classic tale. Tchaikovsky's music stays the same, with the exception of a few added bits courtesy of the Orient. Instead of a grand pas de deux, Marie and her Terracotta Prince perform an elegant dance that includes point ballet on Yu's shoulders and head. The prince defends Marie from airborne ninjas who swoop down, do multiple flips countered by flips from the prince's soldiers, and surround the prince while spinning inside hoops.

In Marie's China-set dream world, a woman balances multiple umbrellas on her feet, another performs a contortion act while balancing candles in her mouth and hands, and others entertain with flying silk, slack wire and water meteor acts. Meanwhile, Drosselmeyer pulls flowers out of his sleeve, brings dolls to life and makes a man doing a balancing trick suddenly appear.

The acts lack the finesse and smooth, dramatic staging of large-budget Cirque du Soleil spectaculars, but they still look beautiful and elicit many an ooh and aww from audiences. The combination of Chinese culture with Tchaikovsky's score and E.T.A. Hoffman's original Nutcracker tale works surprisingly well.

Although "Terraccotta Prince" has already closed, managers hope to make the production annual. Given that the acrobatic troupe has already performed another production by the name of "Yulan," it's safe to expect more from the talented Dalian Acrobatic Troupe.

A quick note on the venue: This winter, "Terracotta Prince" played its American premiere at the Flint Center in Cupertino, CA. The Center offers comfortable seating and a beautiful, large venue. However, for this performance of "Prince," no pre-show announcement was made regarding photography policies. Several people took photos during the production, even flash photos, and many also came in late just as the lights went out. Food and drink were allowed, and the children seemed better behaved than some of the adults present. Do note that parking at the college campus location of the Center is $10.

Upcoming events at the Center include Peninsula Symphony concerts, celebrity forums, a 30th Anniversary celebration for Macintosh, the El Camino Youth Symphony Lunar NY Celebration, Bill Maher and Googosh in concert. For more information, visit

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler