Nacho goes nuts

Not been to the ballet yet? Why not start with its most accessible of all Christmas ballets... Playing at the Deutsche Oper, the Nacho Duato and Staatsballett’s new version of The Nutcracker is Berlin's most opulent yet.

Image for Nacho goes nuts
Photo by Fernando Marcos

Playing at the Deutsche Oper, the Staatsballett’s new version of The Nutcracker is Berlin’s most opulent yet.

What would Advent in Germany be without a family pilgrimage to see the latest rendering of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker? This most-beloved, most-performed and arguably most accessible of all ballets is pure Christmas magic, and this year, lucky Berlin crowds are treated to a new, dazzling €1.5 million version by Staatsballett director Nacho Duato. It’s already been hailed and decried as the “most expensive Nutcracker ever.”

Duato’s Nutcracker – actually a warmed-up version of his own 2013 creation for the St. Petersburg Mikhailovsky Theatre – shines more for its formal opulence than for conceptual audacity. The curtain opens on a breathtaking Art Nouveau tableau of a turn-of-the-century Christmas Eve party in Clara’s mansion. Jérôme Kaplan’s lavish designs and Brad Fields’ lighting perfectly frame the large cast, exquisitely costumed and performing with elegance and grace. Clara, a role usually performed by a very young dancer with little experience of complex dramatic repertory, is here played by prima ballerina Iana Salenko. Petite but as light, pliable and quick as a flame, she whirls through the air with a combination of quick, springy leg movements and flawless attitude, a good match for Duato’s pacey take on the classic. There are a few creative twists and interesting puppetry moments: the evil Mouse King’s rats are shown as sprightly furry fighters in pilot hats. Otherwise, all the children (from the local Staatsballett school) are adequately skilled and adorable and the company’s soloists shine in the second act.

The piece premiered last month under stormy political auspices: ballet professionals and insiders protesting the appointment of modern choreographer Sasha Waltz as co-artistic director of the Berlin Staatsballett (she’s set to take over from Duato in 2019) disturbed the performance with posters and vocal denunciations of Mayor Müller. But profuse applause followed the curtain fall. Politics aside, this Nutcracker dazzles with the kind of aesthetic beauty rarely found on the Berlin stage. Superfluous, maybe. Beautifully decadent, surely. But isn’t that what a true Christmas gift should be?

The Nutcracker (Der Nussknacker) | Dec 29, 30 Deutsche Oper, Mitte