Nutcracker 2016 – Singapore Dance Theatre – Part 1: The Story

I kept thinking I’d write about dancing and then I got tired thinking about it. I make references to “Jeffrey Tan’s Nutcracker”, because I heard that’s what I was watching, back in the day!

 

Here’s the story. It’s set in pre-WWII Shanghai. This is apparently so that the setting lends itself to having a multicultural cast of characters, I think / understand — and clearly there’s some cultural issue about Nutcracker I don’t know about, because we’ve seen Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Korean Romeos and Juliets, Siegfrieds and Odettes, etc.

But to me, pre-WWII Shanghai is not splendour and parties. It’s the Shanghai of the books and TV shows I briefly sampled when I was little. It’s Ba Jin’s The Family. It’s Qiong Yao’s “Romance in the Rain” (Qing Sam Sam in Cantonese on Malaysian TV). It’s Shanghai before the Japanese Occupation, and that’s some weight to hang over the proceedings. And there are soldiers in this story, too…

If you like, you can just skip that part and live in the present, which is what I managed to do eventually (by the nth viewing).

But that’s the reason why, when the curtain first rose to reveal a row of shops, I felt a tightness in my chest and a queasiness in my throat that I could not quell.

 

Pictures and cast! If you know who’s who and you keep track of the characters, it is extremely fun. The most fun of all is wondering if one character is having an affair with another character. Oh, the horror. This is a children’s show, folks.

01-cover

02-synopsis

Cast for Act I, i.e. the story (and a little dancing):

04-cast-1

Act 2, 100% dancing

(Soldiers: Justin Zee aka Mr Nightingale aka Clara’s father, was replaced by — I think — Takeaki Miura. I keep thinking it was Jason Carter — alliteration with Justin Zee, etc. Do let me know if you know who….)

05-cast-2

This is why my day job doesn’t involve photography… or “Buy a camera”.

Before the Ball

Right in the middle of the street is the jeweller’s. The Jeweller, according to the pamphlet, is also the Ambassador. The Ambassador’s day job is to be the Jeweller. Ambassador Kensuke shows up for Rosa Park’s nights, and he stands in the window of the shop, which makes for a startling opening, because he’s very clearly outlined against the black curtain backdrop behind the shops. Ambassador Etienne prefers to wait behind the double doors of the shop until the opening music moves on into its next notes, and he can pop out into the street and accost the unsuspecting passers-by.

Here, the Overture that marks the…beginning. Yep.

I’m quite fond of the music, because it’s so hummable and lively. That part is discussed for the post on dance, I think.

On the far left (the audience’s), Mr Sung (the shopkeeper) pops out to sweep the area outside his shop. He’s played by Huo Liang on Rosa’s and Chihiro’s nights, and Jason Carter on Li Jie’s days. Then in enters the impossibly tall butler (Jerry Wan, not Yan) rushing by distractedly, basket on arm, trying to remember what he’s supposed to buy for the dinner party that night.

In no particular order (but I think should be roughly accurate): there’s Shan del Vecchio as the respectable banker, entering the scene to unlock the doors of the bank. We see the hat shop opening; it’s run by Yatsushiro Marina as the mayor’s wife. We should see Justin Zee as Mr Nightingale, and Mohd Noor Sarman as Herr Drosselmayer. There are folk shaking hands and saying how do you do (the banker and the jeweller, perhaps, and definitely Herr Drosselmayer greeting the banker, I should think).

Next piece of music:

 

This is one of my favourite pieces of music from this ballet.

Enter the Nightingales, led by Mrs Nightingale (Lisha Chin), harried but with every hair in place, and so much on her mind:

a) making sure that the maid and the butler have got the right groceries for tonight’s dinner. Leane Lim (a good addition to the Flowers in matinees) is the maid, basket on arm, who has found the exact things needed (cue nod of approval from Mrs Nightingale and the maid going Hah, see triumphantly at the hapless butler, whose basket is still empty);

b) keeping her children in line. Son Fritz and younger daughter, Clara, are having some sort of tiff, I think — Clara is being teased, I think, and Mrs Nightingale has to sort out matters between them. This gives Marie, the oldest daughter (danced by the Sugarplum Fairy of the night–Rosa, Chihiro or Li Jie) time to be enticed by the jeweller’s window display, and he has no qualms about stringing jewels round her neck (which Clara appreciates, I think), but Mrs Nightingale has to order Marie to give them back — of course she knows their price, without looking. But she doesn’t notice when her daughter’s head is turned by the handsome soldier (Main Soldier, more on him below) marching past. (There’s that little buzz of chemistry between Chihiro and her Main Soldier, Kenya — that is good.)

Lisha Chin is a hoot as Mrs Nightingale, and her acting and expressions carry more than half the weight of the non-dancing scenes in Act I.

We see the Mayor Mr Wu (Reece Hudson on Rosa Park’s night, and Shi Yue Tony on other days/nights) with his children. Once in a while, the shopkeeper might bump into him while sweeping the outside of his shopfront (offhand, I think it’s Huo Liang) and Mr Wu might be laughingly fine with it (Reece Hudson), startled but mollified by an apology (Shi Yue Tony) or not notice (?! the latter, again). Please, don’t ask me how many times I watched this show — I can’t recall if this bumping is at the start or later, but I don’t think the shopkeeper sweeps the stage twice.

Other fun things then: ladies swinging by — I vaguely recall socialite Mademoiselle Shen (Ruth Austin), Mrs Ching (Mrs Nightingale’s sister, whose husband never appears on the scene — Nakahama Akira) and Mrs Sung (Alison Carroll), I think, in a trio. We’ve already seen the banker’s wife, Mrs Tong (Chua Bi Ru) drift past from the right to left with her kids, but I don’t recall if she’s ever stopped by the jeweller’s. I do recall that the happy trio stop by the jeweller’s, enter, are horrified by the prices, and leave. But that’s all right, because Yatsushiro Marina is standing outside the milliner’s with a beautiful hat in her hands, and she lure…invites the happy trio into her shop.

3 Russian ballerinas pass us by — Elaine Heng, Kwok Min Yi, and Tanaka Nanase, shivering because they each only have a shawl with which to fight the winter cold (not because Russia is warmer than Shanghai, no…). The happy trio note them as they exit the hat shop; Mrs Ching seems displeased by them, and her frown at them as she passes suggests that she’s not a very pleasant character; perhaps she turns her nose up at people who are different.

Oh yes, the soldiers. There the ballerinas are, marvelling at the jewels on display, and the 4  soldiers (minus main soldier, Kristian aka Drosselmayer’s nephew) are only too happy to help. Since there are 4 sidekick soldiers and only 3 ballerinas, someone does not get to escort a lady into the shop, or always tries to get a ballerina to look his way, but is told by his mate to give up.

But the prices are jaw-dropping and everyone has empty pockets, so everyone leaves the shop empty-handed. One soft-hearted / folly-prone soldier (maybe today it’s Reece Hudson, or tomorrow, Takeaki Miura) always, always is easily swayed, and sometimes has to be almost bodily shoved off-stage by his peers before he parts with his … pittance.

Mr Wu, the Mayor, strides by again. He’s married to the milliner, isn’t he? It’s not clear, because he never ever stops by her shop to say Hi. That’s quite baffling, really. He just makes his way across the stage.

Somewhere along the way, the day grows late.

Mr Nightingale goes by and spots a lovely necklace in the Ambassador/Jeweller’s shop window, so he goes in. And he buys the necklace, and sees that it is good, and so it is put into a nice red box. And then, because it’s so expensive, he has to go to the bank next door to get a loan.

Drosselmayer’s nephew, Main Soldier in shiny purple top, enters the scene (the Sugarplum Fairy’s cavalier for the night –Etienne Ferrere, Nakamura Kenya, or Nazer Salgado), and Drosselmayer introduces him to the most important man in Monopoly: the banker. And also to Mr Nightingale, I think, since it’s his party that they’re going to, that night, and he’s just gotten his money. There are really a lot of people milling round the bank.

The nephew aka Main Soldier, subsequently runs into his soldiers. Look at the time! And, in Etienne Ferrere-Main Soldier’s case, Look at your suit! Look sharp! (literally, by dusting off and fixing their uniforms). And off they go. Quite amusingly, when Kenya is the Main Soldier, the 4 sidekick soldiers do not merely go off in an orderly pattern — they actually march off smartly. . . . . . .

The streets are emptying. The butler (on request by one of the happy trio) goes into the milliner’s and staggers out with a towering stack of boxes (which the milliner has been preparing for his arrival) that he cannot even see over when they’re in his arms, which is saying a great deal as the butlers are amongst the tallest in SDT. On some occasions, you can hear a loud crash offstage as the boxes are unloaded.

The ballerina girls go by, shivering, and they stop longingly by the jeweller’s — chatting and gossiping — and, at the wonderful climactic moment of 3:00 to 3:02 in the music above, Elaine Heng’s ballerina backs into the banker by mistake, as he locks up and leaves. The girls are quite overcome (I assume by his dashing looks), and they continue giggling as they head offstage. I’m very fond of those 3 seconds of music, really, and I don’t know about them being used as Scene. But it’s nice that the following notes are used to lead us in to the close of day, to the last scurrying things one must do at twilight: the milliner starts to leave, then recalls that she’s forgotten to lock up, and she locks up and leaves.

Then darkness descends for scenery swapping, and the music grows kind of dreamy; and it’s quite clever, when you hear the last notes, and realise how they lead in to the March.

The Ball

I like this version of the March. It has the right amount of fizz to it. So the last notes of the song above segue into this, and the regal Mrs Nightingale in a plum silk gown, waiting in the darkness on the little staircase to the audience’s right, descends down the staircase.

Nothing is quite right, something is quite wrong.

Marie is curled up on the sofa (feet on the seat, horrors), lost in a book. Fritz and Clara look angelic…but Fritz is dozing, slouching in his chair. Clara is angelic. Mrs Nightingale nags Marie into getting off the sofa, then moves on to her other 2 children. Rosa-Marie, being a master of comedy, watches her mother carefully and mischievously edges back to the sofa, and, since the coast is clear, settles back into the same position. Girlish Chihiro-Marie (if I remember correctly) checks that her mum is not looking, then quickly curls up again happily with her book. Li Jie-Marie simply dismisses her mother’s nagging (oh, whatever) and, the second her mother’s back is turned, returns to doing exactly what her mum told her not to do.

Fritz is woken by his mum; he either slumps back to sleep again (one Rosa night) or proceeds to tease his sister, or runs off to the dining table.

Mr Nightingale emerges. Something’s up with his cuff, he can’t button it. He hails his wife, but she pays him no attention, though he waves exaggeratedly. It’s rather PG Wodehouse-ian. At last, his wife notices him (priorities, after all) and goes over to fix his cuff. Alas, it needs mending, and they go upstairs.

The butler, tray in hand, almost bumps into the maid. He flirts with her, and she doesn’t seem displeased.

The happy couple return to the dining hall, and not too soon. Time for the guests to arrive (especially at about 0:37 of this video?). This is not a bad song. I enjoy waiting for the different parts of it. But not all of it makes me drool overmuch.

I don’t totally recall who enters first. Is it the Artistic Director of SDT, Mr Janek Schergen, enters as Mrs Nightingale’s father; and Sun Hong Lei (in great finery) as her mother? Oh yes, they had sort of swung by in Act 1, before the ball.

Here’s the Ambassador/Jeweller. Kensuke Yorozu is an Ambassador who’s positively crackling with joy at being invited; his glass overfloweth, so to speak, and he is jiving to his own beat as he lets his red coat be helped off his shoulders. In one hand, he holds the red jewellery box. He even sways along to the beat of the music as he deposits the jewellery box by the Christmas tree. Etienne Ferrere’s Ambassador is all about being proper, dignified, and polite, and he pauses to fix his cuffs before the audience, so that we can all see the jewellery box.

Next: the Mayor and his kids (without his wife..). The Mayor, regardless of who he’s played by, invariably presses his kids on their heads and makes them bow. Haha.

Next: Mrs Nightingale’s sister (Nakahama Akira) and the Mayor’s wife/ milliner (Yatsushiro Marina) in …samfoo-topped dresses (? purple-topped with a green skirt for the former, I think, and a delicate layered bronze for the latter). The Banker (Shan del Vecchio) and his wife (Chua Bi Ru, in a more modern black lace number), and their children; and then Mademoiselle Shen (Ruth Austin), in a lovely golden and brown baju kurung (I think, from where I was seated).  Bi Ru and Ruth Austin’s dresses are quite mouth-watering.

And 3 Russian ballerinas, I think. Lots of mingling.

Mrs Nightingale is chatting with her parents when her little sister squeezes between the parents and coaxes them to give her a present (here, a chain of pearls from daddy’s pocket, for you). Mrs Nightingale, jealous and irritated, complains to her hubby.

Enter Drosselmayer. Dum-dum-dum.

 

 

I love 0:54 to 1:01, and 1:10 to 1:17 of the song above. 1:02 to 1:09 makes me think of butterflies, and the Russian ballerinas. Somewhere in this tune, I can’t recall when, the soldiers enter, I think. It’s during a slightly more ominous part, heightened by the fear and dismay on Mrs Nightingale’s face when she sees these uninvited folks marching in. But everyone reassures her that all is well, even though we all know this is before WWII..

At some point in time, the kids are given presents. Dolls and teddy bears for the girls, and trumpets for the boys. The Mayor (Tony Shi Yue) delights in holding up the teddy bear / trumpet way above his kid’s head. Some kids compare their toys and decide that their own is better. Someone has a fabulous teddy bear. I’m glad there’s a mix. Back when it was all dolls, the scene involving dancing with dolls had an almost creepy air (2013).

There’s a great deal of background mingling: soldiers pairing off with ballerina girls; people taking note of the clock (is it wrong? someone seems to go offstage at one point to shift the hands from 6ish to 8ish) since one must gesture to something; I spent many performances wondering who the milliner was married to, recalling that the programme booklet said she had a husband (but forgetting that she was also the Mayor’s wife). Cue ominous music.

One Mayor spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out with Mademoiselle Shen — laughing with her, chatting, putting an arm around her in a friendly fashion. The other Mayor mingled with both his wife (the milliner) and Mademoiselle Shen, so that all three stood in a friendly (or awkward?) trio to one side when some of the major stage action took place. But the latter Mayor, at least, crossed the stage to meet his wife (followed by Mademoiselle Shen??)…Does the Mayor’s wife know that her husband is having an affair? Because that’s one pretty convincing reason why Mademoiselle Shen and Mayor trail around each other like misdirected comets. #iwatchtoomuchTV

At some point in time, the lovely Marie and handsome Main Soldier get to exchanging glances and consulting friends on whether they should dance together. Main Soldier-Nazer and Etienne need little (if any) persuading — Etienne’s Main Soldier is quite robust in his confidence, and approaches Rosa Park’s Marie with a polite flourish  — while, hilariously, Kenya’s Main Soldier needs to be pushed forward before he dares to approach Marie.

And thus begins the dance, at 3:03/3:04. I was surprised that this was the music chosen. It has ‘Scene’ written on it, to my unmusical ear. I’ve plebeian tastes, so if we’re dancing in Tchaikovsky, I keep thinking it would be to some really bombastic music. And vice-versa, if the music is striking, it’d be nice to be dancing..

It’s a simple dance when it starts out: delicate, tentative, genteel, polite. A little tucking of her hand in the bend of his arm, and a little alternate pointing of feet to the side, because we’re just getting acquainted here. 3:21 to 3:30 sounds quite nice, though.

I’ve a terrible memory for what happens next, though. Is it the 3 ballerinas? Because I thought Marie danced twice with the Main Soldier. If it’s the 3 ballerinas, then they’re all on mark as always (Elaine Heng, Tanaka Nanase, Kwok Min Yi). And what a relief that they’re dancing. In 2013, a magician (who was really very good) entertained the audience with a glowing orb, which went on for a fair bit, to the point that at intermission, the Japanese ladies nearby were saying It’s a pantomime… politely.

At the end of the music above, you hear a lot of bravado music. That’s Main Soldier leading the soldiers in their great knee-knocking, leaping dance.

 

This next song.. I always think it’s the dance between Marie and Main Soldier (again). That does seem odd. Okay, since I can’t remember, here are the parts of their dance that I liked: when she has her arm delicately round his shoulders, and one leg out in a low lift, and they go round in a circle, she pivoting on her toe. It’s so delicate and lovely. And then they separate briefly in their dance and she lifts her hand up, and Rosa Park, as Marie, glances at Main Soldier even though she’s off in own little corner, because she likes him so. Which is a nice touch. It’s the little things like that which make a show work.

The Main Soldier would like to continue dallying with Marie, but Mr Nightingale cuts the encounter short by materialising beside the pair and introducing himself to the Main Soldier with a firm handshake.

I like the music at 0:41 to 1:00.

There is a rattling sound somewhere in the middle of this song. It’s the nutcracker being put to work for the entertainment of the kids, who have all crowded round the feet of Herr Drosselmayer. He tosses out the cracked nuts to the kids, and the very last one to the side, for the butler or the Ambassador-jeweller to attempt to catch. Many times, the butler might fail (and perhaps respond to the watching guests with a shrug: What can I do?) or the Ambassador may be like Oh well, there it goes. But on Sunday, the afternoon’s butler succeeds (and acknowledges the guests’ appreciation) and at night, the Ambassador-jeweler actually manages to catch the cracked nut in his glass! Very casually, so casually that it seems to go by unremarked upon. (And he then swirls it around and offers the glass to a nearby lady, who rejects it.)

There’s a bit where jealous Franz grabs the nutcracker (now the centre of attention) and runs off with it, threatening to break it, but is stopped by his father, who raises his hand high – and Franz finally, sullenly, agrees to return it. Clara, distraught, has hidden her face in her hands, but her older sister Marie tells her all is fine. And Rosa’s Marie is a very good older sister, who holds the nutcracker up to the light (how handsome he is!) and who works the arm of the nutcracker and nods reassuringly to show that he is fine.

It’s these little touches…

The little girls dance with their dolls. So glad there are teddy-bears. It’s interrupted by the little boys and their new trumpets – a veritable little gang, led by bolder gang-leaders. The parents interrupt, and almost take away their toys, but agree not too, when they’ve extracted insincere promises from the boys that they won’t do that again.

But sure enough, the whole thing is repeated again. The trumpeting trick gets a tad..repetitive in the first few performances, but after that, when you watch the background (i.e. look past the dancers! oops), you can kind of enjoy the sneakiness of the gang-leaders as they organise the remaining kids, creep past everyone and properly startle us all with their trumpeting.

This time, even the butler gets in on the action, fussily rushing over. Trumpets are confiscated for a while.

Lisha Chin’s Mrs Nightingale has been giving us a perfectly hilarious and inspired performance throughout: first Franz’s mischief and the general duties have gotten to her (popping an aspirin or Pepto-Bismol in a corner and downing it with liquor), and now this drives her to more liquor.

Oh, but fear not: Mr Nightingale now makes her the star of the night, presenting her with the gorgeous necklace that nearly bankrupted him. So beautiful. So sparkly. So bling and glam. Mrs Nightingale is over the moon. The whole hassle of the day is worth this: there’s your lesson learnt, please, in one word — Tiffany’s. (I don’t really fancy Van Cleef, somehow.)

Mrs Nightingale has to parade her necklace, of course, and everyone gets to see it and congratulate her. The banker’s wife may, on one occasion, ask bystanders if hers is any bit as amazing, and the guests will inform her it is not. On another night, she might ask her husband to buy one just as awesome as that; but her husband, only too aware of the true value of that necklace, demurs – so she smacks him on the arm.

One ballerina asks her soldier companion for something similar, but he wisely says No, because he doesn’t have to work in a bank to know how much something like that costs.

Mrs Nightingale’s sister has been slowly suffocating with jealousy in a corner. Akira’s quite splendid as Mrs Ching — at one time, pretending to laugh it all off while watching her sister preen with green eyes, and on most other nights, looking more and more miserable by the moment and drowning her sorrows in a glass.

(But does that matter? We’ll see later that it doesn’t!)

When Mrs Nightingale goes over to Mrs Ching to flaunt her fortunes in her face, Mrs Ching tries to ignore her, but it’s impossible, when Mrs Nightingale is laughing at Mrs Ching’s pearls and even tugging at them (childish! but highly effective miming — it made me sit up and read the booklet when the lights came on, so I could figure out their relationship, and I followed the story a bit more closely the next time I watched the show).

Mrs Ching tries to laugh it off with other guests, or save face. Slowly, she learns to find comfort in the Jeweller-Ambassador’s presence: chatting with him, drinking with him, flirting with him, over the course of the various performances — sometimes through the ball, but, most definitely, always after being mocked by her sister. By one of the final shows, they are terribly friendly with each other, and she is hanging on his arm/ he has his arm around her. So she needn’t worry, you see? Her hubby won’t have to pay for the jewellery in instalments, either.

Then Mr Nightingale calls everyone together for a grand dance, to the Grandfather Dance. Just sharing a possibly-incorrect memory: I think in the 2000s, it was made up of adults holding hands — they’d go round once in a grand circle, and then do other stuff. This tune has always had a very special place in my heart, because I didn’t expect the adult guests to dance when watching the Nutcracker. I expected dancing to be in tutus or those bell-shaped skirts of Sylphide times.

It’s now adults in pairs forming columns, still in grand finale style. Of course, the Mayor is holding hands with his wife in this dance. Mrs Ching dances with the jeweller-Ambassador — very well-matched, including one performance where Mrs Ching, glass still in hand (having failed to palm it off to the shopkeeper Mr Sun and his wife), pulls off the waltz beautifully and is assisted at points by the Ambassador.

At some point, the focus shifts to the kids again — the adults are clapping for them as they run through the columns of adults. Nutcracker serves a lot of purposes, and I think one of the major purposes of this one is to form a launching pad for kids who may want to consider dance as a career, in future. To show them that it’s possible. To teach them what it’s like, to give them a taste of it — because, if you read those interviews and such, loads of kids go on to be professional dancers after they’ve had that glimpse of what it’s like to be on stage.

Okay, time for the guests to go home. Butler and maid must locate the shawls and coats and hand them out correctly. This is difficult — some people have shawls that look awfully similar from a distance. On one occasion, I thought Mrs Sung (the shopkeeper’s wife) had left with a Russian ballerina’s shawl at first. Jeweller-Ambassador departs — a tad drunk, in Kensuke’s case on one night, on a roll as he sways his way out, two fingers keeping his shocking red jacket flung over one shoulder; and always very put together, in Etienne’s case.

Everybody, to bed.

Hands of clock move to midnight. I know Herr Drosselmayer rushes in at some point in time. I forget when, perhaps now. All I can say is, that suggests he’s that nightmare guest you don’t want at your party, the one that never leaves, and who in fact hangs around in your house when you think you’ve gotten everyone out.

Anyway, off he goes, and the rats creep down the stairs, pausing comically at points in the music to glance round and check out that all is safe. The smaller mice come in after that. The rats go for the food. The mice keep watch, on tenterhooks — bobbing up and down on the same spot, like ants on a hotplate, so the atmosphere remains kind of tense. They’re sort of cute. The rats are scarier, because they’re taller, and bigger. At one point, they all turn around and freeze, as if they’ve heard a noise, and the mice freeze in fear, too. The rats, satisfied that they are alone, turn around and continue to feed.

After that, the rats grab the presents, I think, and they scurry off, followed by the mice — and that’s when Clara, descending the stairs, sees them. It feels like there were way more mice and rats than there were in 2013, and that’s a good move, because they’re more intimidating now. Strength in numbers. It also works to hire bigger children as rats. For reasons to be explained, which you may have read in reviews online / in the papers.

Clara, terrified, leaps onto the sofa. All the Claras are really good, of course, but I do find the matinee Clara to be a rather exceptional actress. Not sure why, but everything she did — terror (heaving shoulders?), sleeping, etc was extremely convincing.

Herr Drosselmayer, he who never leaves, appears, and comforts her. He shows her the magical growing Christmas tree, and she is astonished and delighted e.g. the Clara in the matinees points and signals her very real wonder.

Okay, then there’s this whole thing about rats and mice coming in, and toy soldiers running in, doing a great sideways leap and landing very neatly. Now there are 6 of them and one Main Soldier.

In 2013, there was a handful of cowering, terrified small young mice…and a row of 4 soldiers pointing guns at them… I’m not sure if the choreography was updated or if it was because the mice/rats are way larger in size and numbers now, and they are the defiant sorts, not the terrified sorts. They’re actually having a great rave in their own way, and delighting in being…ratty.

And if you look carefully at the soldiers’ dance, the soldiers don’t really seem to be serious about shooting them — they are very toy soldiery. So it seemed a lot less like the 2013’s version.

The soldiers really do a lot of stuff, jumping with nice pointed feet and marching in order and then getting down to business by standing in a row. There’s a comical moment where one cute little mouse approaches a soldier, who ignores his Main Soldier’s warning not to engage with little mice, and the soldier pats his head (a loud hello to those of us who don’t enjoy seeing cute little kid mice being shot at by big toy soldiers — toy soldiers don’t like it either), and then he gets kneed and his rifle is stolen. Kensuke does a brilliant job of being the unfortunate soldier, on Chihiro’s night. All the unfortunate soldiers are quite good — that was actually funny.

The only real firing comes from Main Soldier, who really doesn’t seem to be aiming at the rats/mice (thank goodness!), but I think he might have wounded one (I forget…I think that exit one rat, woundedly–that could have been a trifle disturbing, yes).

I’m always rather baffled by the part where the rats /mice are on one side and the soldiers on the other, and then in the midst of it all, Herr Drosselmayer rushes onto the scene with Clara hoisted upon his shoulder. Why? Is she a pacifist who cannot bear to see bloodshed and wants to stop the soldiers from hurting the rats/mice? Oh, I think it then leads to the soldiers forming a circle around her, wherein they must stick out their arms to the left to touch the shoulder of their fellow soldier while staring straight ahead (one night, the Main Soldier cleverly manages to make turning his head to stare at his fellow soldier part of his routine, so that he puts his hand on the shoulder correctly).

But wouldn’t Clara also have been equally safe hiding behind the growing Christmas tree? No? Perhaps we need to be reminded of her, because of Reasons to be seen at the end of the scene.

Happily, there is also a giant Rat King played by an adult, with brilliant dramatic aplomb by Timothy Ng and Reece Hudson — fabulous flair in their kicks and arm waving. Timothy Ng’s Rat King is a hoot, shaking his butt at the Main Soldier and whirling his tail like a lasso, in a great show of up yours. I’m not into slapstick humour, but it’s not really that. It’s just the right touch to keep us from thinking about little mice/rats. He’s a real menace, after all. It’s fine to bump him off. But he’s such wicked fun.

Think that until now, we’ve not visibly had, since Timothy Coleman, much in the way of dramatic dancers (apart from Yorozu Kensuke as the wildly popular Rothbart in Swan Lake, but I think also, if you have seen Timothy Coleman’s Mercutio, that you might know what I mean).

But when it comes to actual battle, the Rat King is right behind all his rat and mice subjects, literally — seeking shelter behind them — but they shove him right in front and cheer him on. And so, he attacks the Main Soldier. This gets really good — dazzling moments of Rat King using Main Soldier as his pommel horse and doing sort of upside down leg-open jumps in the air etc. Nazer’s Main Soldier lifts Rat King Timothy Ng in the air for quite a bit. It’s not just the acrobatics which are fun to watch and dazzling, but also the kind of partner-work required, and timing.

Anyway, Clara is not forgotten. At some moment in the battle, they are rolling about on the ground or something, and the Main Soldier has the advantage while the Rat King lies on the ground. Clara rushes out with the sword, and Main Soldier stabs Rat King.

The End for Rat King, who is carried away by weeping rats and mice, his head sort of dangling back, which feels a bit dangerous. This sends a wave of laughter through the audience, which is much better than a wave of discomfort at seeing tiny child-mice being shot. Yep.

Maybe I’m just biased so I prefer this version of the Rat Attack to the 2013 version. Maybe there’s been no change at all. It’s just…a little less shocking this round. Maybe because I prepared myself for it and remembered the 2013 version in high colour?

In the meantime, Clara is popped onto the Main Soldier’s shoulder and carried away.

The next thing we know, Clara and Franz are on a sleigh pulled by soldiers. If the soldiers at the back are able to, they will push the sleigh as well, so that the folks in front don’t have such a hard time.

Franz! Why’s he there? I’m fine with that, since it’s always nice to see that he’s not just a naughty kid undeserving of Christmas joys. Besides, perhaps this will teach him to play nice.

Okay, time for the Snowflakes. That falls under Dancing. Is that unfair? There’s been dancing above, after all. But you know what I mean — the major acting stuff is over. On to scene after scene of dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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