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‘The Nutcracker’ to bring year-end magic to stage

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Nov. 26, 2023 - 16:23

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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)

The iconic ballet “The Nutcracker” is set to make a festive return for year-end magic on the stage, as major ballet companies gear up for the holiday season. The classic Christmas spectacle wraps up the year with a colorful stage, glittering costumes and familiar melodies from Tchaikovsky’s score.

Based on children’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” (1816) by German writer Ernst Hofmann, the heroine (Marie or Clara in different renditions) 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.

The Korean National Ballet will present Yury Grigorovich’s rendition of the piece created for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1966. The KNB has been performing Grigorovich’s version since 2000.

Scheduled performances include shows in Daejeon from Thursday to Saturday, Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province, Dec. 4-5, and at the Opera House of the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, Dec. 9-25. The number of performances in Seoul has nearly doubled compared to the previous year. The Korean National Symphony Orchestra will perform the score.

A stellar lineup of principal ballet dancers, including Park Seul-ki, Joung Eun-young, Kim Ki-wan, Lee Jae-woo, Heo Seo-myeong and Park Jong-suk, totaling seven pairs of couples, is set to grace the stage.

A scene from the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” (UBC) A scene from the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” (UBC)
A scene from the Universal Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” (UBC) A scene from 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.

In its 37th season, UBC’s rendition will take to stage in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, on Friday and Saturday, in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Dec. 8-10, and at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul, Dec. 21-31. The ballet company is to give 16 performances of "The Nutcracker" with the music performed by the Korea Coop Orchestra.

The lineup of principal dancers at UBC includes six pairs including this year's Benois de la Dance winner Kang Mi-sun and her husband Konstantin Novoselov, and Hong Hyang-gee and Lee Dong-tak.

Lee You-rim, who joined UBC as a soloist in October after seven years as a soloist with the Hungarian National Ballet, will make her debut as Clara.

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)

Grigorovich and Vainonen versions of "The Nutcracker" differ in many aspects. The Grigorovich version presented by the KNB features a dancer of 7 to 9 years old from an affiliated ballet academy playing the role of a nutcracker with the Vainonen version performed by UBC employing a real wooden nutcracker as a prop.

However, both versions highlight the famous "Waltz of the Snowflakes" in Act 1, where more than 20 dancers embody the falling snowflakes under a flurry of 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 the grand finale of "Waltz of the Flowers.”

A scene from the Wise Ballet Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker” (Mapo Foundation for Arts and Culture) A scene from the Wise Ballet Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker” (Mapo Foundation for Arts and Culture)
A scene from the Sofia City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” (Sofia City Ballet) A scene from the Sofia City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” (Sofia City Ballet)

Wise Ballet Theater, a private ballet company in Korea, presents a unique adaptation of “The Nutcracker” at different venues in December. The performances are scheduled at Naru Art Center in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, Dec. 8-9, at Mapo Art Center in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Dec. 15-17 and at Busan Cinema Center, Dec. 24-25.

Artistic director Hong Sung-wook has re-choreographed the piece originally by Marius Petipa, maintaining the essence of Petipa's choreography while incorporating elements of street dance styles such as breakdancing, popping and tap dancing.

Bulgaria's Sofia City Ballet is scheduled to perform "The Nutcracker," choreographed by its artistic director, Yordan Krastev, at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), Dec. 22-23. This is the ballet company's second visit to Korea since the 2014 performance of “Swan Lake” at the Sejong Cultural Center in Seoul.