As artistic director Gary Harris’ last production, much was expected from the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s The Nutcracker.
Like many interpretations before it, this version, with a distinct 1930s flavour, is quite a departure from the classical story. Not only is the main setting moved to a children's hospital, some central characters are missing, including the Mouse King and his army.
Instead, Clara's brother Fritz and his gang of cronies take on the role of the Nutcracker's nemesis.
The Nutcracker himself plays a rather perfunctory role, appearing in human Prince form very briefly.
In fact, Tchaikovsky's score seems to be the only part of the ballet that remains true to the original, and it is well performed by the Vector Wellington orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Young.
However, what this version loses from the classic story, it makes up for in comedy, utilising new characters or giving existing characters expanded roles. The latter is particularly successful with the character of Fritz.
Sir Jon Trimmer shines in his comedic role as the slightly tipsy children’s ward Matron. It's a close-run contest as to who takes the award for the biggest scene stealer - Matron or the frequently hilarious Fritz, danced by Paul Russell. They both frequently manage to upstage the other dancers, even when they're merely background players.
But the biggest cheer of the night deservedly goes to three plaster-clad clutch wielding blokes, who hobble, hope and twirl their way through a highly amusing Dance of the Mirlitons.
This dance is certainly the highlight of the second act, which lags in comparison to the first and feels a little disjointed as the narrative line disintegrates. However, a pas de deux - or dance for two - performed by Clara’s parents lifts the performance, segueing neatly into the final scene.
This is a lavish, entertaining and fresh look at a classic, though it would have been nice to see more of the character who gives the ballet its name.
The production runs in Wellington until November 6 before moving to Invercargill, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Napier and Auckland, wrapping up in Takapuna.
See nzballet.org.nz for details.