Dancing snowflakes and Nutcrackers, battling mice and squabbling children, it’s that time of year. For ballet lovers around the world, if it’s December, its Nutcracker season.
Although the ballet was considered a failure when it was first performed in 1892, it has become one of the most widely performed productions in the world.
The director of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in St Petersburg commissioned Alexandre Dumas to adapt German author E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King into a story for a ballet, which was set to a score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. French choreographer Marius Petipa choreographed the two-act ballet.
While Tchaikovsky’s luscious The Nutcracker Suite was a hit as a concert piece, Petipa famously complained that the ballet score was too difficult to dance to. It languished in the Russian repertoire — and that of a few other companies — until New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine created a new production for his troupe in 1954. Balanchine’s production continues to be a staple of the holiday season in New York City and the foundation for various other versions of the show around the world.
This year the National Taiwan University of Arts has stepped forward to provide a true Christmas treat for dance lovers and children in Taipei. The school’s Grand Dance Theater and Grand Symphony Orchestra are performing The Nutcracker at the National Theater tonight through Sunday afternoon. They kicked off their production — which boasts more than 200 performers, brand new costumes and scenery at a cost of NT$10 million (US$309,000) — with a special performance last night to benefit a host of local charities and orphanages.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara and the gift of a very special nutcracker in the shape of a soldier that she receives from her godfather at a Christmas Eve party at her parent’s house. Act One centers on the party and Clara’s receiving her gift. She sneaks back downstairs after the party to take another look at her new doll but falls asleep under the Christmas tree. She awakens to find herself surrounded by the Mouse King and his troops. The Nutcracker comes to her defense, leading a group of toy soldiers. The Nutcracker emerges victorious, with help from Clara, and turns into a prince.
The prince whisks Clara away to the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy — sometimes called the Kingdom of the Sweets — which is where Act Two opens. This is the section of the ballet that has all the most recognizable melodies and dances: the Spanish, Arabian and Russian dances, the Waltz of the Flowers and the wonderfully grand Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.
Even if you don’t want to dance yourself, this is one ballet that is almost impossible not to like.
If you go to The Nutcracker this weekend — or even if you don’t, take some time to go through the Discover the Gulliver (紙風車格列佛人體藝術探索館) exhibition erected this week in the plaza between the National Theater and the Concert Hall.
The 60m-long, 7m-high, 12 tonne inflatable Gulliver’s Paper Windmill Museum, was made by the Paper Windmill Cultural Foundation in the shape of Lemuel Gulliver, the main character in Jonathan Swift’s 18th century novel Gulliver’s Travels.
The foundation created the NT$10 million (US$30,000) traveling museum to help children learn about human anatomy as well as Swift’s classic tale.
Visitors enter the exhibition through a hole in Gulliver’s foot. Inside are telephone-pole-sized bones, a stomach full of food, a large intestine laid out like a maze, a pumping heart and lungs that blow air. You can climb up into the giant’s head for a close up view of his teeth, including some cavities, nostrils and brains and a stairway that takes you up onto his forehead for a Lilliputian view of the entire balloon.
“Older brother and sister” guides are on hand to explain the internal workings of humans. The tour takes 10 to 15 minutes.
The exhibition is recommended for children aged 3 and up, however, it is not baby stroller or wheelchair accessible.
Gulliver was exhibited in the Wenshin Forest Park in Taichung in April. The exhibition opened in Taipei yesterday and runs through Jan. 3. It is open from 9am to 9pm and admission is NT$50.
The Paperwindmill Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization for the performing arts, especially children’s theater, created Gulliver as a gift for the children of Taiwan, but like The Nutcracker, he’s really for all ages.
WHAT: The Nutcracker, Grand Dance Theater, Grand Symphony Orchestra of National Taiwan University of Arts
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: The only tickets left are NT$1,200 and NT$1,600 for tonight and tomorrow and NT$1,600 for Sunday, available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
WHAT: Discover the Gulliver (紙風車格列佛人體藝術探索館)
WHEN: Now through Jan. 3, open 9am to 9:30pm daily
WHERE: NTCH plaza, 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$50, available at the site (to control the number of visitors, online sales have been discontinued) between 9am and 8pm
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact
A walk down Orchard Road shows just how badly the coronavirus pandemic has hit Singapore’s famed shopping strip. Gone are popular restaurants like Modesto’s, which shut last month after 23 years. Also missing are the queues of Chinese tourists outside Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Malls along the 2.4km stretch, once one of Asia’s top shopping meccas, are dotted with empty stores. On a recent midweek afternoon, the number of shop staff idly dusting shelves or playing with their mobile phones rather than greeting customers is notable. “It’s the worst crisis for Singapore and Orchard Road,” said Kiran Assodani, who has run her