Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (New Theatre Oxford)

I managed to miss Matthew Bourne as he emerged onto the dance scene. It is only recently, when Cinderella came to Oxford and I took my mother to see it for her birthday that I truly acknowledged his genius.
Matthew Bourne works heavily with concept. He is incredibly aware of the setting and period of his work. This always sits well with my “one foot in the theatre camp” approach to dance. For the Nutcracker the setting is that of an orphanage, which then becomes a lake and finally sweetyland. Each of these environments lends itself to very different styles of movement – the rigidity of orphans drilled to perform for visitors moves to sweeping ice dance swirls which is topped by the fabulously camp array of sweet based characters. the concepts are strong and the set design does every moment justice. My favourite set had to be the wedding cake – each tier provided a platform for hollywood musical style leg swinging. Followed closely by the entrance to sweetyland, the giant glittering mouth guarded closely by the Humbug Bouncer.

On the whole this is a wonderful production. the values are high and the dancers are clearly talented. The choreography is mostly strong and the use of Tchaikovsky’s music tends to work well…. except (come on, you knew it was coming) Bourne seems to have been dictated to by the music rather than letting it work alongside the movement. Sometimes the moves are just to busy and the dancers seem rushed and clipped rather than being allowed to really extend into either the moves or the emotional journey. On the opposite side of the coin there are moments where it feels as if Bourne just didn’t make enough… this leaves the performers having to do a lot of mimicking, fake mime (“no, I really am laughing you just can’t hear it” type stuff) and displaying. The result of which os that you get what stereotype of character the performers are playing but no real depth into them. I had no emotional investment and so I didn’t really care wether Clara got her man or not.
The dance of the sugar plum fairy was super as was the exotic flamenco style licorice allsorts dancing together…bum-slappingly luchious. The girly marshmallows all high twitch and twisty were excellent. Clara was wide eyed and wonderous but needed to grow a pair! Particularly when she did get her man… she needed to show him the door, not jump out of the window with him! Come on sister!

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, I just wasn’t bowled over. I love the fact that Bourne dares explore character and narrative but here I wanted a bit of subtely too. Definitely worth a viewing although Cinderella remains my favourite.

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