Every year Cairo audiences have a chance to attend The Nutcracker, performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and the Cairo Opera Orchestra at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall. This year the ballet will continue until 29 December.
Many ballet and theatre groups perform The Nutcracker during the Christmas season, as the story is set on Christmas Eve. Understandably, The Nutcracker is known to almost all audiences and its music or its parts are recognised by many listeners. Yet, the experience itself and the festive season draws audiences over and over again to this ballet.
A magical atmosphere, a beautiful set with a gorgeous Christmas tree, snowflakes and a nutcracker being transformed into a prince are among the many elements captivating the hearts of children watching this story unfold.
The Nutcracker ballet is based on the story, The Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman, set to the music of P.I. Tchaikovsky. The story diverts a little from Hoffman’s text (as Pepita, the choreographer used Dumas' revised version of The Nutcracker), yet the basic plot remains the same. The Cairo performance of The Nutcracker is based on L. Ivanov, Vaionine and Abdel Moneim Kamel’s choreography.
A young girl named Clara gets a mechanical doll – the nutcracker – as a Christmas present. Since there is always something mysterious about Christmas, the magical dream begins with the clock striking midnight. Clara is taken into an imaginary world where she witnesses the battle between the King of Mice and the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker wins and turns into a prince. He takes Clara on a journey to the Land of Snow and the Land of Sweets and invites her to a variety of dances.
In Act I of the ballet the basic plot, a fable, serves as an introduction to a series of scenes and dances presented in Act II. The imaginary world of Clara transports her to a series of beautiful numbers: a Spanish dance, an Arabian dance, a Chinese dance, a Russian trepak… Those dances are particularly valuable, especially to the young audience, which has the opportunity to get acquainted with a variety of traditions and musical flavours. If performed well, as is the case with the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, the dances are a real delight. The Waltz of Flowers, one of the most beloved numbers of The Nutcracker ballet, underlines the grace of the dancers, while the sound of celesta in the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy adds charming accents to Act II.
Several dances from The Nutcracker are also included in The Nutcracker Suite, a selection of eight numbers from the ballet, chosen by Tchaikovsky. The Nutcracker Suite is one of the much-loved compositions performed in the concert halls.
The Nutcracker is a story which captivates children with its simple plot and visual richness. The scenography presented on the Cairo Opera House stage, pays respect to the ballet and its traditions, while good lighting emphasises its beauty. It is a wonderful, visual experience and definitely for older audiences, recalls memories from their childhood. It is important however to stress the fact that The Nutcracker is also an opportunity for the younger members of the audience to get acquainted with classical music. The story, the set and the delightfully-drawn scenes attract the attention of children.
Our only moan is the wish for more matinee performances. This year there was only one matinee at 12 noon on 26 December, while the remaining performances take place at 8 pm.
The matinee, with the hall filled with excited children, would have been just perfect, had not the ballet been performed to recorded music. Matinee performances aiming at children, and hence introducing them into new musical values – through a lovely tale – should specifically include a live orchestra. Recorded music gives a sense of a distance, while an orchestra enhances an important and enriching experience. Fortunately, all soiree performances are with a live orchestra.
The Christmas season and its magical atmosphere introduced with the ballet can make up for a number of imperfections, such as slip-ups by the dancers. But isn’t the Christmas season a time of forgiveness? This is good enough reason to forget those few snags and still enjoy many beautiful aspects of the ballet.
Once again, The Nutcracker proves to be a lovely, family outing around the festive season.
The Nutcraker ballet, P.I. Tchaikovsky.
Cairo Opera Ballet Company and the Ballet students of the Academy of Arts, Cairo Opera Orchestra
Conductor: Nayer Nagui, Artistic director: Erminia Kamel, Director: Abdel Moneim Kamel
Cairo Opera House Main Hall
23, 27-29 December at 8 pm
26 December at 12 pm and 8 pm
Photos by Sherif Sonbol