The Australian Ballet

5 Reasons to see Nutcracker - The Story of Clara

Graeme Murphy's far-ranging, modernised version of The Nutcracker focusses on the journey of a Russian ballerina from girlhood to old age. Emotional, glamorous and theatrical, it became an instant classic at its premiere 25 years ago.

Amy Hargraves Rachel Rawlins Ai Gul Gaisina Graeme Murphys Nutcrcaker photo Tim Richardson

Emotional Depth

Tchaikovsky would have loved Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker. The composer reportedly detested the shallow, saccharine libretto provided to him by the choreographer Petipa, and struggled to interest himself in the project (happily, he eventually did, and their collaboration resulted in the masterpiece we still adore today). Murphy's interpretation of The Nutcracker is grounded in real events (the Bolshevik Revolution, the tours of the Ballets Russes) and real emotions (love, loss, grief, nostalgia). Seen through Murphy's prism, Tchaikovsky's music surrenders its fullest depths and textures, and reveals new perspectives.

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Love in Motion

Graeme Murphy is an acknowledged master of the pas de deux, and in his Nutcracker we see the art at its height. Clara, on the night of her triumph as a ballerina of the Imperial Theatres, shares a rapturous moment backstage with her lover, a young soldier who is soon to be killed by revolutionaries, prompting her flight from the country.

The Design

Kristian Fredrikson had collaborated several times with Graeme Murphy on productions for Sydney Dance Company, but this was the first time the pair had produced a full-length classical ballet. Fredrikson delighted in evoking turn-of-the-century and 1920s styles, Mariinsky tutus and St Petersburg winters. "He was in fashion heaven!” recalls Murphy fondly. Costume highlights include Clara's lavishly printed kimono, and the layered, swirled tutu that she wears to dance a Grand Pas de deux.

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Design Sketch by Kristian Fredrikson

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Justine Summers. Photo Branco Gaica.

Clara the Elder

Clara's story is framed as a flashback, the dying visions of an elderly ballerina, and Clara the Elder plays a significant part in the storytelling. She is played by a mature artist: past Clara the Elders have been danced by luminaries like Dame Margaret Scott, Marilyn Jones, Ai-Gul Gaisina and Valrene Tweedie. Nevertheless, Clara must be able to evoke a much younger dancer, and to do battle with Bolshevik rats! The role is a dream for an older dancer, and a rare chance to see these great stars' interpretive powers.

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Dame Margaret Scott. Photo Jim McFarlane.

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Marilyn Jones. Photo Branco Gaica.

Russian Glamour

Murphy's ballet is full of affectionate references to the original Nutcracker - the snowflake scene becomes the swirling winter landscape of Clara's St Petersburg; the Grand Pas de deux becomes Clara's debut role at the Mariinsky; the Nutcracker Doll's fight with the mice becomes the Soldier's struggle with the Bolsheviks (brilliantly portrayed as rats in ragged greatcoats). The distinctive Russian flavour of The Nutcracker is preserved, in Murphy's Australianised version, through Clara's memories of her past.

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Artists of the Australian Ballet. Photo Branco Gaica.

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Artists of the Australian Ballet. Photo Branco Gaica.