There is a new Nutcracker in the Bay Area, and he is a prince in The Terracotta Prince from China. Dennis Nahat, famed choreographer and founding artistic director of The San Jose Ballet, is presenting an enchanting and re-imagined holiday classic, based rather loosely upon E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King” but with a totally new concept in staging.
The new production is enriched by the collaboration with the tremendous talents of the incomparable Dalian Acrobatic Troupe from China. It combines classical ballet, dance, striking scenery, and beautiful costumes with daring acrobatics, all while performing to the breathtaking music of the great Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
“It is unlike any Nutcracker you will ever see anywhere in the world,” says Dennis Nahat. “It has already been suggested in Europe and China to be among the world’s greatest achievements of ‘Nutcracker’ productions, because of its unique setting.”
Some of the outstanding highlights of this show feature a performer who will wind up as the human topper on a Christmas tree, a feat that requires her to balance upside down, single-armed, 15 feet in the air-with no safety features. Other specialties include a unicyclist on a wire, a balance act on bottles, and people throwing bowls at each other. There’s a lion dance, too.
‘‘This one is all Chinese,’’ Nahat explains. ‘‘The bowl throwers are for the Russian dance. The Arabian dance is done by a contortionist holding candles on her feet. There’s a panda bear and, instead of mice, ninja warriors fight the Terracotta Prince.’’ But Nahat’s aim is to mostly please his youngest fans. ‘‘They’re the best audiences,’’ he says enthusiastically about kids. ‘‘They don’t miss a thing!’’
The true magician is actually not Papa Drosselmeyer who gifts Marie with a Nutcracker Christmas present, but it is Dennis Nahat, producer, director, and founder of Theatre Ventures International who spent two weeks in China every month for a year working with the amazing Dalian Acrobatic Troupe creating the Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince – the spellbinding show of stunning beauty and dazzling athleticism, which Nahat is introducing to adoring crowds on both continents.
In my communications with Nahat I was curious to learn about several aspects of this international partnership. Here are some excerpts of our interview.
LB: How did the idea for Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince come about?
DN: While rehearsing a warrior dance with Dalian Troupe’s performers in China, I immediately said ‘‘This is like a terracotta warrior Nutcracker!” The Troupe had already performed a Nutcracker, all I did was give it a new focus as a Terracotta Nutcracker and help with production elements such as new lighting, suggestions in detail, sets and alterations in minor details.
LB: Why is this Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince different from the classic Nutcracker ballet?
DN: It is based on the E.T.A Hoffman storyline of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, but Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince is based on traditional Chinese acrobatics performances of magic and aerials with the dance infusion of classical ballet – it is a classically-staged work but the sensibility is totally Chinese in all performance styles.
LB: How did you establish a cultural relationship with the Dalian Troupe in China?
DN: Following my numerous tours, workshops, and visits to China for the past 10 years, I met, in addition to the artists in Dalian, the famed teachers of the Beijing Academy of Music and the Shanghai Ballet, and a few of the Ministers of Culture of China. When arts companies from China toured the United States, many of them came to see me in San Jose, including members of Shenyang Ballet and Shanghai Ballet. To cultivate a good relationship between our cities was my goal.
LB: With no knowledge of the Chinese language, how do you communicate with the performers? Do they speak English?
DN: I have interpreters during rehearsals but when I don’t, I just use sign language and the language of dance. Not an easy task while they are flying around attached to high wire. But it all works out because dancers and performers understand music and movement, eye contact, demonstration, indication, and gestures.
LB: What is the performers’ impression of California?
DN: They loved being in California. Our borders and political restraints need to change. Artists must be free to move about, since we have so much to offer each other. I hope that by our bringing these fantastic artists from Dalian, China, we will have more opportunities to create new and exciting works for the benefit of all, especially the young generation.
With the changes to the Nutcracker’s original libretto by adding the breathtaking scenery, lighting, costumes, and classically – trained dancers, magicians, and acrobat artists of the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe, one thing has not changed: Nahat’s well-established tradition of staging and interpreting brilliant and spectacular ballets and shows. And as the current production of Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince comes along on a magical journey from China to the Bay Area, it is still a timeless tale full of wonder and joy told through the language of music and dance.
And as the glittering snowflake fairies pirouette and twirl around the stage, I too will dream about the real prince in my life.
The Bay Area premiere of Nutcracker, The Terracotta Prince runs December 18-22 at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. The seven performances include a special abridged one-hour children’s matinee show on December 21. Tickets are available at www.Ticketmaster.com or call (800)745-3000. For additional information visit www.TerracottaPrince.com. The Terracotta Prince is a San Jose – Dublin Sister City Program.
Fun fact: The Nutcracker, first performed in Russia at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892, is the last of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s trio of evening length ballets. The first of Tchaikovsky’s full-length ballet scores was Swan Lake, completed in 1876, followed in 1889 by The Sleeping Beauty.
All photos by John Gerbetz.
Lina Broydo immigrated from Russia, then the Soviet Union, to Israel where she was educated and got married. After working at the University in Birmingham, England she and her husband immigrated to the United States. She lives in Los Altos Hills, CA and writes about travel, art, style, entertainment, and sports. She hardly cooks or bakes, not the best of ‘‘balabostas’’ her beloved beautiful Mom, Dina, was hoping for. Therefore, she makes reservations and enjoys dining out.
By Lina Broydo