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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 14:47 GMT
Newsnight Review discussed Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

For me, it's fantastic to see contemporary dance getting this sort of limelight. Performing in that size of venue, with that size of budget, because so often, it's done on the small scale. Here, he's really thinking big, and that's great. It makes it hard to define. It's hard to know what to call it, because when we say contemporary dance, we mean a certain type of lyric dance that we see other choreographers do. This, to me, is somewhere between dance and a musical, sort of like a "dancical", really. It's some kind of kind of new form. Having said that, for me, the most interesting thing about Nutcracker is the relationship between the Drosselmeyer, her uncle, who gives her the Nutcracker, and Clara. Because he has made Drosselmeyer into Dr Dross, who is, essentially, a bad character, there isn't that possibility for exploring that relationship. That's something Matthew could have done really well.

It's quite interesting, because in other interpretations he has made, he has actually invested the ballet with a lot more meaning, and darkness.

Exactly. He doesn't do that there. For me, that weakens the narrative. The plot seems to roll on, and then the eventual denouement, where the Nutcracker ends up in her bed, seems to come from nowhere.

Did you think it was still a ballet, or was it more of a pantomime?

I think it's quite like a pantomime. I agree with Deborah, you mentioned camp. In our house, we have a copy of the Barbie Nutcracker video. Matthew Bourne makes Barbie Nutcracker look like Harold Pinter in its restraint. It's incredibly camp. Camp is very knowing. There is always tipping the wink at the audience. Knowingness is the enemy of wonder and discovery. Really, partly, the ballet, the traditional Nutcracker, is about this awakening of this young girl to the amazing wonders of this sweetie world. I missed that. He is brilliant at characterisation. The children at the beginning are so much better than traditional ballet children. They come on, and they jump and scowl. They are fantastic. The choreography, I thought, was really clunking, and you miss those spine-tingling, virtuoso moments, when the whole thing is transformed.

Matthew says he loves high heels.

It's fun. It's like a very, very entertaining West End musical. What it's not like is those absolutely amazing┐ He showed in Swan Lake he can do big emotion in movement. I agree with Deborah, there is lots of emotion in here he could have tapped better.

His characterisation is very strong. He says, for example, for the liquorice man, he was thinking of Terry Thomas complete with the cigarette. There are all those kind of cinematic references.

That was, to me, an outstanding sequence. We are criticising something fine at a fairly high level, but if this isn't the place to take a sledgehammer to a Nutcracker, I don't know what is. It seems to me that when somebody enters, like the marshmallows, the costume is exactly right, their little jinking step is right. It's been understood exactly what little flick of the head will make the feathers tremble just the right amount. It's a perfect moment, but the entrances are better than the rest of the number. You don't get a sense of development, by and large. I don't feel that he does what choreographers really do, which is to take a chosen vocabulary, and work within it, towards something else. The only exception, I thought, was the very sinuous dance, the Arabian dance. That really built, because it wasn't just a matter of saying, "Here are the gobstoppers, they do that, here are the marshmallows, they do that, put them together and they do what they do."

Allison has mentioned Swan Lake, which completely blew a lot of people away. Like that, this introduces a whole new swathe of people to dance.

Absolutely. We shouldn't underestimate how important that is. There will be people will be going to Sadler's Wells, flocking in to see it, and loving it. I agree with Allison, I wonder how much of that knowingness is based on an audience who understands those classical ballet traditions, and gets the jokes through that route.

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