Story By: Liza Simon
Photos By: Elyse Butler
Ballet Hawaii has staged a
performance of The Nutcracker just about every year since 1980. But this
holiday season the Honolulu-based ballet company and school will do something a
little different. No, not a different ballet. Ballet Hawaii tried that once,
and its supporters insisted on bringing back The Nutcracker. Lesson learned.
The Nutcracker must go on. But rather than the faraway Bavarian village where
the Yuletide classic is traditionally set, this year’s production unfolds in
the courtly splendor of the mid-nineteenth-century Kingdom of Hawai‘i.
The first act of the
two-act ballet draws loosely from what is perhaps the first written account of
a Hawai‘i holiday party with an indoor Christmas tree. That was on Christmas
Eve of 1858 at Washington Place, the mansion where Crown Princess Lili‘uokalani
once lived. Complementing the elegant royal aura onstage are period costumes
created by local celebrity designer Kini Zamora, who made a name for himself on
the fashion reality TV show Project Runway.
In the second act, Ballet
Hawaii dispenses with the dancing bonbons and other European confections
populating the Land of the Sweets in the original Nutcracker and presents
instead a lush tropical garden with soaring ‘iwa (frigate birds) and other
fauna and ﬂora of the Hawaiian Islands. A well-known volcano goddess also has a
role, doing what she does best and bringing some surprises.
Nutcracker marks Ballet Hawaii’s fortieth anniversary and is intended as a
thank-you to supporters for helping classical ballet to grow in Hawai‘i.
Parents and grandparents who once performed as the toy soldiers or the sugar
plum fairies of their respective Ballet Hawaii generations bring their children
and grandchildren to the company’s summer intensive programs.
Before the kids get wooed
away by the beach, many get hooked on the possibility of being selected as one
of the 150 or so dancers in the Nutcracker cast, which is fortified each year
with guest stars from top international companies, including the Bolshoi and
the New York City Ballet.
For the 2016 revamp,
docents at Washington Place—now the residence of Hawai‘i’s governor—joined with
Hawaiian cultural practitioners as guides in the making of the show. “The whole
joy of the project,” says Ballet Hawaii’s artistic director Pamela
Taylor-Tongg, “was being able to dig deep into Hawaiian tradition so we can
bring out beauty and honor the uniqueness of where we live.”