THE fact the Royal New Zealand Ballet's The Nutcracker is set in a hospital couldn't be more ironic for dancer Adriana Harper who steps into the lead role after a year-long hiatus due to injury.
Harper injured her knee while performing in La Sylphide a year ago and has endured a long road to recovery. But the 25 year old is now fighting fit and thrilled to be cast as Clara in this fun, family ballet.
The festive favourite was recast by Artistic Director Gary Harris as a medical misadventure set in a children’s hospital ward - something Harper admits is hugely ironic.
“I am so excited to be back on stage and dancing the role of Clara, in what is such a feel-good, festive show. There were times last year when I wondered whether I'd ever get an opportunity to dance a lead role again. I was dedicated to my rehabilitation programme and it's paid off," Harper says. "The fact that I'm heading back to hospital is quite funny - but this time it's a pretend one, thank goodness."
The action begins on Christmas morning when Clara’s rat-bag brother clouts her over the head with her new toy, a nutcracker doll. Rushed to hospital, she encounters the fearsome matron whose spoonfuls of medicine blur the line between reality and make-believe. The original scenario in traditional versions of The Nutcracker never made sense to Harris but he had planned to stick to traditions until a friend suggested setting it in a children's ward with Clara hospitalised with concussion. "Everything that happens from then on is like a dream,' he explains.”I loved it immediately. It’s different, it serves the story, it has dramatic tension.”
Harris ensures the traditionalists will be happy with his quirky version. “The snow scene, The Waltz of the Flowers and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy retain much of Marius Petipa’s original steps and structure.”
Together with additional choreography from Kiwi Adrian Burnett, Harris spins a dreamy confection of classical dance amidst evocative stage and costume designs from Kristian Fredrikson that echo the glamour of Hollywood’s big studio era glamour through a child’s vivid imagination. Fredrikson, who died in 2005, has a long history with the RNZB and designed the company’s productions of Coppelia, Peter Pan and Swan Lake.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s first production of The Nutcracker was in 1963, with choreography by Russell Kerr and Jon Trimmer in the role of the Nutcracker Prince.
Productions have followed by Patricia Rianne (1980), Ashley Killar (1994) and Peter Boyes (1997). The RNZB premiered this version in 2005.
The Nutcracker opens in Wellington on 29 October. It tours to Invercargill, Christchurch,Palmerston North, Napier, Auckland and Takapuna.