A Whole New Nutcracker
The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse flips this traditional ballet (and the Christmas tree) on its head.
Choreographer/artistic director Petr Zuska promised a new take on The Nutcracker and that’s exactly what he delivers. Tchaikovsky’s soundtrack remains the same, but The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse (Louskáček a Mýšak Plýšak) premiered Dec 3 tells an original story filled with essential elements of the Czech holiday season.
The first characters we meet are “You” and “I,” a pair of human statues painted silver and gold (reminiscent of Old Town Square performers), who guide the audience through the story. The facial expressions and comic timing of Štěpan Pechar and Klára Jelínková immediately set a light-hearted, kid-friendly tone to this ballet.
Act 1 focuses on the Advent season, opening on a mother, father, and their children, Franta and Maruška, enjoying Christmas markets under Prague’s Astronomical Clock. Next we move to the family’s holiday party on December 5th, with St. Mikuláš replacing the traditional character of Herr Drosselmeyer. Mikuláš is accompanied by Magdaléna Matějková and Ondřej Vinklát perfectly cast as a graceful angel and a powerful devil.
As in the Czech St Mikuláš tradition, the children admire the angel, are tormented by the devil, and recite the required poem. The children’s reward comes in the form of a giant walnut. After many attempts to open it by the men at the party, Mikuláš succeeds in cracking the shell to reveal the cuddly toy mouse inside.
This is also where we are introduced to the most significant change for fans of the traditional ballet. Petr Zuska’s Nutcracker is no personified wooden soldier, but instead a cold, hard metal tool. When this tool is given to naughty young Franta, he uses it to threaten the soft, plush, lovable Cuddly Mouse. This choice removes any romantic connection between the young girl and the Nutcracker, keeping the story more kid-focused.It also means that the battle scene reverses the typical roles of heroes and villains. As the children get ready for bed, a family of sweet mice and an army of nutcrackers enter their bedroom, leading the audience to root for the mice instead of the nutcrackers. Mr Zuska’s battle doesn’t end in victory for one side and defeat for the other, but instead comes to the peaceful terms of a truce.
Act 1 closes with a “Dance of the Snowflakes” which serves as a tribute to popular winter sports in the Czech Republic. “You”, “I”, and the children head outside to go sledding, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and to play ice hockey as the snowflakes twirl in the background.
In Act 2, the exclusion of a Nutcracker Prince also eliminates a journey to his magical homeland. Petr Zuska’s second act instead celebrates the tradition of decorating the home for Christmas, which is coordinated by “You” and “I.” It’s all about visuals of costume and scenery. The parade of decorations includes elaborately outfitted Christmas ribbons, balls, candles, and firecrackers, which are then digitally projected onto a Christmas tree; it stands upside-down to allow the dancing star to be placed on top.
Nikola Márová gives a standout performance as that star, constantly battling to dance in the spotlight, whenever she isn’t being pushed back into place atop the tree.
With the decorations in place, and after a night of crazy dreams, the story ends with a happy reunion between the children and their parents. Mom and Dad are given the romantic role of Grand Pas de Deux, and are happy to see their children getting along again. As the curtains close, we’re given a final farewell from the beloved duo of “You” and “I.”
Petr Zuska’s take on this classic story is kid-friendly and tailored for local audiences. While classical ballet fans may miss some of the more famous moments like the “Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” this tribute to Czech Christmas traditions is full of silliness and spectacle for the whole family.
– Auburn Scallon, Opus Osm writer
As of this writing, tickets to The Nutcracker and the Cuddly Mouse (Louskáček a Mýšak Plýšak) are still available for performances at 7 pm on Jan 12 and 13.
Photo Credits: All photos by Martin Divíšek, except the photo of the children, by Pavel Hejný