I have been visiting Italy for the last 25 years and it has been my home for most of that time. For a quarter of a century I have been hearing about a production of the Nutcracker which was very popular during the ‘80s and ‘90s when the company Aterballetto took the ballet on tour. The choreography was by Aterballetto’s then director, Amedeo Amodio, and the striking designs by the Oscar-nominated Italian designer, painter, animator and illustrator, Emanuele Luzzati.
Then three years ago, the production was taken up by the ballet company in Palermo, then by that in Rome, and earlier this year Daniele Cipriani Entertainment bought the original production from Aterballetto. The backcloths and costumes were restored, an ad hoc company of dancers was assembled, and once again this most original of Nutcrackers is back on the road.
The production came to Milan’s Arcimboldi Theatre before continuing its travels. The Arcimboldi was created as La Scala’s home during a three-year restoration in 2002. The proscenium arch and the stage behind it have exactly the same dimensions of that of the Scala: it’s big! It was too big to be an ideal setting for this intimate production – perfect, though, for most of Italy’s glorious 1,000-seater theatres – and large black wings were necessary to reduce the stage space. As Luzzati’s designs use black drapes it occasionally made the scenes seem sparser than they actually are. No matter, it worked. The designs are kooky and fun, the use of shadow play imaginative, and the production feels as though it’s roaming within the imagination of a child: an innocuous small object with a light behind it can cast a frighteningly large shadow on a wall. In fact, the ballet starts with Clara on her bed. It’s a dream.
Sometimes, Amodio’s choreography can be bland, and the shadow play tends to dominate the dancing, however for an ad hoc company the dancing was surprisingly well drilled, and most of the soloists were respectable. It is a worthy addition to Italy’s scant Christmas ballet offerings.
The dates in Milan had New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder dancing Clara, a role she previously performed three years ago, in Palermo. When she came to the final pas de deux, where she threw in some of the Balanchine choreography that she’s used to, she brought the house down with her assured technical wizardry: she sparkled like a diamond.