For fans of the classic ballet The Nutcracker, there is no need to wait until Christmas to see the show. On July 20 and 21, The Nutcracker will be performed at Beijing Poly Theatre by the Tianjin Acrobatic Troupe. As the group's name suggests, it's not just a ballet. Acrobatics, Latin dance, tap dance and a fusion of art forms are incorporated in this new production.
The storyline is based on the classic ballet, with additional Chinese elements and creative plots. The acrobatic drama portrays Marie, a gifted dancer who suffers from anxiety over an international dance competition. She dreams that she wins the trophy with the help of the Nutcracker. With new self confidence, Marie wakes up enlightened.
Adaptations of classic ballet are not new for audiences. There are many domestic different versions of Swan Lake, some modern, experiential and all-male. The acrobatic Swan Lake staged by Shanghai City Entertainment Group Company (SCEG) traveled throughout the world since 2005.
The Nutcracker hopes to follow suit. Liu Jun, the former star performer at Staatsoper Berlin, Germany, directed a number of innovative dance dramas such as the ballet The Moon Over a Fountain and The Tale of the White Serpent. After her successful choreography in Swan Lake, she created The Nutcracker.
Last year, The Nutcracker acrobatic drama was performed 13 times at the theater of Shanghai Culture Square, the only original drama set to premiere globally for the China Shanghai International Arts Festival. This year, the acrobatic troupe brings new techniques to Beijing.
"Last year we were not ready for the most difficult part of our trapeze performance, when two performers fly to each other, back to back. They can't see each other, so it relies on the cooperation and experience of the performers," said Liu. The twin female performers create visual magic on stage.
"Ballet and acrobatics [are skills] that develop from long-term hard work," Liu said. "I hope more people appreciate these classic art forms."
The acrobatic drama includes many Shanghai features such as the setting at a typical Shanghai wharf and shikumen (stone warehouse gate with a traditional Shanghai architectural style). Other Chinese elements, like the folk activity diabolo, are performed alongside modern dances.
The show keeps the majority of Tchaikovshy's score, with about 30 percent original score. In the plot, the international dance competition alludes to the TV program China's Got Talent. This modern twist creates an interesting storyline.
"All the adaptations, including music, storyline and dance add drama and entertaining features," said Liu. She explained that traditional acrobatics focus on the skills of the performer while The Nutcracker contains difficult acrobatic movements alongside a dramatic plot.
For the production team, the drama is a way to attract audiences who are not necessarily ballet or acrobatic fans.
The production team is an international team. The creative producer Ric Birch, director of choreography Daniel Ezralow, stage and prop designer Carlos Navarrete-patino, composer An Dong and costume designer Roger Kirk are all world-renowned figures.
"The production process itself is international," said Liu. Initially, the Chinese production team planned to dismiss the Christmas elements of the classic The Nutcracker so that the show could be performed year round.
Birch, an experienced producer and director for the opening and closing ceremonies of four Olympic Games, insisted on keeping the festive atmosphere by arguing that the tradition of watching The Nutcracker during Christmas is important to Western audiences.
"To create an optimal combination of Western and Chinese elements, we need specialized talents."
Ezralow has experience in choreographing trapeze in the Broadway musical Spider-man: Turn off the Dark. Navarrete-patina is the costume, prop and scenic designer for the on-ice performances Nutcracker and Lion King.
For this show, the team utilizes almost every possible circus trick and large-scale illusion. Liu told Global Times that to attain these effects, modern technology is essential.
The Nutcracker can be used as a way to negotiate with the tastes of Western audiences.
"If we create a whole new performance full of Chinese features, it will be very difficult for us to be accepted in the West," she said. Liu expressed that these international cooperations created new inspirations.