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Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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This is Annie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Grease and The Wizard of Oz re-mixed and bettered.

Matthew Bourne - famous for the Billy Elliot-featured all-male Swan Lake - only turned to dance professionally at 22 and, without a history of classical ballet training, he claims to get much of his imagery from film. Unafraid of camp or controversy, his company, New Adventures, are reviving their gloriously irreverent interpretation of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet.

When the curtain rises (or rather drops) we are in a Dickensian orphanage, replete with cast iron beds and a cane. Cruel and comic in equal measure every orphan dances out their distinct personality as they are forced to perform a celebratory dance for us, the visitors. The dancing is loose and experimental; the girl's strange grey sack dresses shrugging rather than swirling as they quarrel, skip and slump.

When orphan Cara finds the Nutcracker doll and embarks on her journey Bourne begins to incorporate the essence of the Pepita/Ivanov original, first staged 110 years ago. The doll turns into a hunky prince and Hannah Vassallo and Chris Trenfield are beautiful as they dance an expression of their love. With an intense sensuality she melts into his arms and they curl round and climb up one another with growing lust.

When tragedy strikes and her prince is stolen, Clara follows her rival into a fantasy world. As she tries to get the bouncer of Night Club Sweetieland - its entrance, a big pink mouth - to let her in, pink ladies totter, giggle and bitch, flamenco Liquorice Allsorts prance and a hypnotist Knickerbocker Glory expresses paedophilic intentions.

In a touching sequence Clara tries to copy their moves to follow them in only to be refused. Her halting, brave attempts to flamenco, gathering her skirts and stamping perfectly conveys the struggle of a girl trying to find her way and harness her powers.

The fantastical extravaganza builds as Jackass Gobstoppers do Beavis and Butt-Head and dancers lick themselves and one another into an orgy of sugary bliss, climaxing (just before everyone wakes up) with the "Waltz of the Flowers". For this the sweets climb onto an enormous pink wedding cake to grind like podium dancers, the lycra-clad men enacting moves Tchaikovsky could not have foreseen. Gleefully dark and incessantly inventive, this is ballet to makes you laugh out loud and cheer.

- Carmel Doohan


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