If you’re lamenting the end of Christmas for another year, there’s still just enough time to re-live last month’s festivities through Scottish Ballet’s revival of Ashley Page’s 2003 Nutcracker. Page’s darkened sensuous vision, set in 1920s Weimar Germany, may be dosed with flashes of the macabre, shrouded in dream logic and undercut by an uncomfortable beyond-avuncular relationship between its heroine and her eccentric Godfather, but its plush colours and homage to classic choreography create a piece as delightful as it is challenging, as traditional as it is modern.
Tchaikovsky’s irresistibly hummable score is the perfect foil for Page’s wicked humour, the overture offset by a giant picture of a girl with her skull cracked open like a nut, inside which mad, garish-haired toy-maker Drosselmeyer tinkers. As the story progresses more of these unsettling twists emerge: a monstrously large mouse takes on the shape of young Marie’s callous governess; Drosselmeyer dances with Marie in long swooning passages (the projection of his own desires?); and in dream logic style, things from the real world become distorted versions of themselves in the dream world, the Land of Sweets re-imagined as a giant mock-up of Marie’s parents’ mantelpiece with all their fashionable postcards from round the world.
The setting allows for images of both the wholesome Germanic fairytales we all know and love and the darker culture of the era to emerge, all beautifully depicted by Antony McDonald’s designs. Here is a time when Freud’s theories took off and Expressionist cinema was framed by warped geometric landscapes. The maids of this household may look respectable from the front, but when they turn their backs they are wearing nothing but white frilly knickers. As the heroine takes centre stage in her own dream, a Princess in a strange and wonderful forest, it makes perfect Freudian sense as the realisation of her wish-fulfilment, echoing the longing looks and dances she has given her beloved Nutcracker toy earlier on at her parents’ party.
Page’s choreography flirts with his chosen era – Charleston hands-crossing-on-knees, a swish of tango legs – but more importantly draws out a strong range of characters. Diana Loosmore’s Mouserink is wonderfully evil, her signature spread arms spinning across the stage. Quenby Hersh as Marie develops from a springy child in a sailor dress through willowy sensual youth to a woman tempered with majestic poise. Her second act pas de deux with the Nutcracker-Prince (Christopher Harrison) are clean as ice, queenly limbs floated and held at the stateliest of paces, turns tight as a ballerina in a jewellery box.