On stage though, Christmas started very nicely with someone selling roasted chestnuts in front of Kom Tong Hall (a historical building of Hong Kong) leading the audience through yet another localized production following that of the company’s Romeo and Juliet.
The first act was a celebratory scene with some funny parts. When the social butterfly based on Shanghainese movie star Lily Yuen appeared, many men clustered around her within seconds. Tao Sifu (the equivalent of Drosselmeyer), a magician, gave Clara a nutcracker, and the moment she got it she danced lightly around under a glistening Christmas tree and skillfully protected it from her brother.
Nana Sakai portrayed a joyous and loving Clara. As the naughty brother Fritz, Lin Chang-yuan Kyle energized the audience with his playfulness.
In general, there wasn’t much room left for dancing in the first act, as they were busy doing greetings, drinking, and Ma-Jong playing. Despite the fact that one could almost feel some of the dancers’ hunger to show the audience that they could dance, too, the acting scenes succeeded in entertaining the audience.
However, they became somewhat confused when Tao Sifu opened a gigantic vase and two dancers appeared from inside. The male dancer had long black eyelashes, a Chinese Opera type of blush, and a feathery crown as well as a shimmering costume that somewhat resembles what a drag queen may consider wearing in a tucked-away SOHO bar. According to the program, the man was a Crane and his accompanying female dancer a Peony. It took a while before the audience realized that the characters were references to what was painted on the vase.
The next surprise was a far easier guess, although I almost thought it was a hallucination due to side effects from my booster shot: It was the Monkey King from Journey to the West. First of all, this figure has loads of backstory in tales and Buddhism, and it just doesn’t fit in the middle of a traditionally Western party. Second, it doesn’t work in a Hong Kong Ballet production for a simple fact: the audience has plenty of Monkey King versions to choose from when they want to watch one, and it would be less lame to show the audience something else in a Nutcracker.
Rounds and rounds of iconic but random people and things continued to show up. For example, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary figure who made no contribution plot-wise or dance-wise to the show. The same happened with other celebrities.