This 10th-anniversary production finds CoisCeim, Ireland’s leading contemporary dance company, in strong populist form, even if it lacks the boldness and originality of choreographer David Bolger’s best work (such as his stunning 2002 “Rite of Spring”). The production is entertaining and features (despite some early-run technical hitches) high production values, and will doubtless tour well around the Irish regions. But given that Mark Morris and Matthew Bourne have so cornered the international market on “Nutcracker” updates, a future for this ballet outside Ireland seems unlikely.
There has always been a strong storytelling impulse in even Bolger’s most abstract compositions, fully evident in this updated, de-Christmasized and highly theatrical “Nutcracker.” While the plot is admirably clear, the basic problem is that his premise — office workers have repressed emotional and imaginative lives — feels simplistic and somewhat dated.
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In Bolger’s retelling, Clara (Lisa McLoughlin) is not a rich little girl but a rank-and-file office worker who discovers her inner ballerina through the interventions of her guardian angel Drosselmeier (the great Irish actor Tom Hickey).
The Sugar Plum Fairy is here a bad witch: The snooty boss sexually intimidating a male employee who eventually becomes Clara’s nutcracker prince (Robert Jackson).
The nine dancers first act out stylized scenes of office drudgery, then gradually transform into figures in Clara’s imagined world, dancing on and around Joe Vanek’s versatile and attractive set of desks, chairs and wheeled shelving units.
While Paul Keogan’s lighting successfully creates different moods and playing areas, it was too hard to see certain scenes on opening night due to strangely low lighting levels and an overzealous fog machine.
At its best, the production gives the sense of ideas and images taking shape before our eyes, as when the dancers transform into mice by holding pointy paper cups in their teeth, or when Clara seems to conjure the recorded Tchaikovsky score by tapping out the familiar rhythm on her typewriter.
The performers are impressively multitalented, successfully conveying complex emotions through movement and facial expressions.
One wished, however, that a throughline was more clearly delineated for Hickey’s appearances. He is winningly committed to what he’s doing, but it is hard to know what to make of his somewhat comic, somewhat sinister presence in Clara’s life.