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Which 'Nutcracker' to see this Christmas season?

Two ballet troupes present different versions of timeless classic 'The Nutcracker'

The Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (KNB)
The Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (KNB)

The iconic ballet “The Nutcracker” returns for year-end magic on the stage this month.

This year, one of the most beloved and widely performed classical ballets celebrates its 130th anniversary, first premiering at the Mariinsky Theater in Russia in 1892.

Based on the children’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” (1816) by German writer Ernst Hofmann, the heroine receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift from her godfather. On Christmas Eve, she falls asleep and goes on a fairy tale adventure to a fantasy land with the nutcracker, who is transformed into a prince in her dream.

As the signature ballet show of the holiday season, the classic Christmas staple perfectly wraps up the year with a colorful stage, glittering costumes and a festive mood.

Many of the familiar melodies from Tchaikovsky’s score resonate with audiences of all ages and gender.

Once again, the country’s two major ballet troupes are set to delight the audience with the beloved classic.

The Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)
The Waltz of the Snowflakes in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)

The Universal Ballet Company will stage the Mariinsky Ballet version that premiered in 1934, created by Vasily Vainonen. The Korean National Ballet will present Yuri Grogorovitch’s version of the piece created for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1966.

Both versions highlight the famous "Waltz of the Snowflakes" in Act 1, where more than 20 dancers represent the falling snowflakes under pelting confetti snow; the divertissement in Act 2, or a dance sequence performed regardless of the plot, where the dancers perform a feast of folk dances inspired by countries around the world; and "Waltz of the Flowers" in the finale.

But the two versions show distinctive charms in choreography, stage direction, props and characters.

The Waltz of the Flowers in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)
The Waltz of the Flowers in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)

Vainonen’s "Waltz of the Flowers" incorporates a rapidly changing formation with continuous jumps and demanding lifts, where the male dancers lift their female partners, staging a spectacle, according to the UBC.

In Grogorovitch’s version, male dancers hold huge candles and perform with female dancers in "a gorgeous yet orderly ensemble."

A scene from the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” (KNB)
A scene from the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” (KNB)

During the divertissement, the KNB has five pairs of male and female dancers perform each pas de deaux, or dance duet, focusing on the elaborate movements inspired by dances from Spain, India, China, Russia and France.

“The detailed dance movements are choreographed to give the feeling of ‘puppets’ coming to life,” according to the KNB. The audience can observe five dolls placed underneath the Christmas tree in the first act, each symbolizing one of the aforementioned countries.

The UBC, on the other hand, presents three of the five divertissement portions performed with more than three dancers.

A child dancer performs with the wooden Nutcracker in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)
A child dancer performs with the wooden Nutcracker in the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (UBC)
A child dancer plays Nutcracker in the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (KNB)
A child dancer plays Nutcracker in the Korean National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” (KNB)

The leading characters are different as well. The heroine in the UBC production is Clara, whereas it’s Marie in the KNB production.

Also, the UBC uses a real wooden nutcracker, while KNB has a child dancer 7 to 9 years old from an affiliated ballet academy playing the role. It’s a sight to see the heroine’s godfather easily lift the young dancer up high.

The KNB will stage "The Nutcracker" at the Opera House of the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, from Dec. 17-25. The Korean National Symphony Orchestra will perform the score.

The UBC’s production will go on stage at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Jongno, central Seoul, from Dec. 22-31. The music will be performed by the Korea Coop Orchestra.

The KNB has been performing Grogorovitch’s version since 2000, while the UBC has been performing Vainonen’s production since 1986.



By Hwang Dong-hee (hwangdh@heraldcorp.com)
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