Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Christmas production The Nutcracker has been a staple of the season since 2011. Terence Kohler’s choreography stretches the limits of bodies and imaginations as dancers imitate the movements of snowflakes and tin toys. But what perhaps comes as a pleasant surprise in this eighth reprise are the performances of the supporting dancers on whom depend the lightness of snowflakes and the movements of the toys, with young dancer Jasmine Wong Yuet Tung (Clärchen), as well as corps de ballet member Lin Chang-yuan Kyle and soloist Ma Renjie as Chinese dolls deserving particular mention on this night.
Loosely based on ETA Hoffmann’s much darker fantasy, Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet tells of a toy nutcracker, given to Clara as a Christmas present, which comes to life and rescues the Sugar Plum Fairy and her kingdom along with Clara from the evil Rat King. The sumptuous music, together with the choreography, traditionally lavish costumes and glittering sets, gave a festive spin to classical ballet; it soon became a Christmas classic the world over.
This Hong Kong production offers a modern take on the timeless story. It is Clara herself who saves the struggling Nutcracker by hitting the Rat King on the head with her glittery shoes, before her brother Fritz stabs the evil Rat King in self-defense. The Nutcracker is less heroic, but the mood of this fairy tale ballet is no less cheerful. This version allows tight choreography between the three dancers, emphasizing friendship between the three rather than, as is traditional, the romance between the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Hong Kong Ballet has also replaced some of the classic poses with those of more Chinese inspiration. The Chinese dolls somersault and their final palm salute also evoked a flavor of kungfu. The production adds more local context by adding two pheasant tail feathers to the head of Rat King costume in possible reference to a fearsome-looking Cantonese opera General.
The Christmas tree dolls’ duets also showcased the capabilities of Hong Kong Ballet’s rising dancers. All six pairs captured their characters with flair and confident technique. Coryphée Wang Qingxin showed passion in the flamenco-ballet fusion with her fan; coryphée Gary Corpuz’s snake-like moves made for a sensuous Egyptian doll.
In this Hong Kong version, Clärchen is given a major part as Clara’s favorite doll and brave companion. Jasmine Wong Yuet Tung’s accuracy and ease combined with confident stage presence that belied her years created a convincing, and adorable, doll. If Wong’s performance in the final ensemble with all dancers on stage is any evidence, we have something to look forward to.
Hong Kong Ballet’s The Nutcracker, with its adaptions and fresh choreography performed by its able team dancers, sprinkled localness over the classic Christmas ballet: a celebration not only of the season but also of Hong Kong’s (rising) ballet dancers.
The Nutcracker ran from 19-29 December 2019.