Art & Culture

Two Tales Reimagined

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National Ballet weaves together two classic Christmas tales

It’s the suburbs of 19th century London on Christmas Eve. The familiar character Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens’ greedy moneylender, is busy reminding his borrowers of what they owe him. Little does he know that spirits, a Satanic sabbath and a nutcracker await him.

The story is a well-known holiday classic about redemption, but this one has an unexpected twist thanks to Hungarian choreographer Youri Vàmos. Instead of giving audiences just one classic Christmas story, Vàmos gives them two. “The Nutcracker–A Christmas Carol,” playing at the National Theatre through Jan. 11, tells the dual stories of Scrooge and Clara, the girl whose nutcracker magically comes to life.

Since its debut in Saint Petersburg in 1892, “The Nutcracker” has been popular with audiences for ages. It has undergone many reiterations in choreography and story since its premiere. Vàmos’s version, which had its first performance in 1988 in Bonn, elevates the tale above a meer Christmas story into a fresh, but timeless adventure that is great for all ages, all times of the year. It first came to Prague in December 2004 and went on to be a big hit.

“The Nutcracker–A Christmas Carol” is not Vàmos’s first time he has added a different take on a classic story. He often adds imaginative revisions to classical works. For example, his production of “The Sleeping Beauty” became “Anastasia–The Last Daughter of the Romanov Czars.”

Vàmos started his career as a ballet dancer at the State Ballet School in Budapest. He’s spent most of his professional career in Germany after he was offered a contract at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. From there he gravitated to choreography until eventually becoming artistic director of Deutsche Oper am Rhein Düsseldorf, where he enjoyed considerable success for 13 years.

His performances often sold out and earned him great recognition. Many consider him to be one of the best choreographic storytellers of today. Petr Zuska, the artistic director of the National Theatre Ballet in Prague called him “the last ballet narrator.”

Vàmos is also one of the last European choreographers who aims to keep full-length ballets, with “The Nutcracker–A Christmas Carol” clocking in at two hours with a 20-minute intermission. While staying true to the traditional foundation of his art, Vàmos breathes new life into his productions by focusing on expressing the psychological nuances of his characters.

The ballet opens with “A Christmas Carol.” After Scrooge’s accountant Bob Cratchit is caught making fun of his boss’s cantankerous spirit, he is fired on the spot leaving him without the money to buy Christmas gifts. Clara, instead of being a part of the bourgeois Stahlbaum family, is Bob Cratchit’s daughter who had hoped to receive a toy nutcracker for Christmas. In this version, it is Scrooge who breaks the nutcracker, not her bullying brother.

From there much of the stories progress as they did in their original versions. Scrooge is visited by ghosts and is plagued by visions of hell if he doesn’t change his ways. Clara eventually dances with her nutcracker, once the broken toy transforms into a prince in the famous pas de deux.

Luckily for fans of the traditional “Nutcracker,” many of the most celebrated aspects of the show remain in Vàmos’s version. In addition to the pas de deux, the Dance of Nations in the final act also stayed. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s amazing score has also been relatively untouched, so fans of the Russian composer can still enjoy the lightness his music brings to the story.

A beautiful tale of the power of Christmas being able to transform human character, “The Nutcracker–A Christmas Carol” is the perfect show to buy tickets to this holiday season. You can purchase tickets online at narodni-divadlo.cz.

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