FEATURE MARK MORRIS
Mark Morris returns to the Edinburgh Festival this year with The Hard Nut, a radically wild and wonderful adaptation of the Nutcracker, that most classical and holy of ballets. Ellie Carr talks giant afros and sequin
ﬂares to the wunderkind of modern dance.
K so it’s Christmas. It’s Christmas, you’re a kid and you’ve been taken to see the Nutcracker. You’re sitting behind a pillar in the middle of the stalls, and on stage there are people running around dressed as mice, people in frilly pink skirts standing on their toes. and other kids jumping up and down and dancing round a gi-normous Xmas tree. In the interval you get an ice-cream, and at the end you go home, and never see another ballet again as long as you live.
This is the Nutcracker syndrome. If and when kids get taken to the ballet, they always get taken to that one. Why? Because it’s the nicest ballet in the world. A rose-tinted spectacles vision of Victorian family Yuletide. full of charming adults, equally charming children. and a cutsie-pie dream sequence that lasts almost half the show. Way back in the mists of dance-time (1892) it was created by two key Russian ballet—bods, Lev lvanov and Marius Petipa, and their pal Tchaikovsky from the bare bones of a dark little fairy-tale by ETA. Hoffman. Now pinker and flufﬁer than ever before, it’s still performed (invariably at Xmas) by nearly every ballet company in the world, and continues to be hailed (by those who hail
‘Hm 1 Set 11-17 Ana 100‘
such things) as the ideal introduction to ballet for kiddiewinks.
Mark Morris was one of those suburban kids who’re fed as many Nutcrackers as they are hot turkey dinners. His middle-class, Seattle family sent him to dance classes (which he loved) but bless his little cotton ballet pumps, he just saw one cheesy rendition of Nutcracker too many. Luckily it didn’t put him off, and he grew up to be the fine, upstanding modern-dance megastar he is today. Then in his late 30s — with a stack of beautiful, elegant, uplifting dances under his belt — he decided it was about time he rescued that delicious Tchaikovsky score from it’s sticky-sugary Nutcracker fate.
Legend has it the idea for The Hard Nut came up over a pint in late ’89 whilst Morris and his company were working in Brussels. Mikhael Baryshnikov was there (apparently) and said he would dance Clara (the little girl who has the cutsie-pie dream sequence); then Morris came up with the truly zany idea of asking famous US horror-comics artist Charles Burns to design the show, and they all laughed heartily into their beers. Or so the story goes. Whether or not this well-reported conversation really did provide the Spark for The Hard Nut, is impossible to say (‘sort of,’ are Morris’s words), but when the
curtain went up on the Brussels premiere two years later it was indeed on a production conceived by Charles Burns — even if Baryshnikov was conspicuous by his absence.
And what a production. The Tchaikovsky score was still there. The basic storyline (family Xmas, kid gets toy nutcracker. kid dreams of magical kingdom and nutcracker prince, etc) was still there. But this, this was rock ‘n’ roll. First Morris had returned to the ETA. l-loffman fairy-tale and put back all the shadows. He did so with great relish he says. because Hoffman's tale is ‘much scarier‘. and ‘much more powerful’ than the sanitised version we know (and love) today. Then he turned the whole pink, ﬂuffy Nutcracker on its head by hurling the story forward from its usual cosy Victoriana to a lurid, lucid. raucous vision of tacky 60s suburbia. ln Act One — where polite fatnin guests are normally ushered into an opulent drawing-room ~ rude. lewd party animals wearing flares. bandanas. bad shirts and beehives burst into a comic-strip version of the all—American family home (a la Burns) complete with white vinyl couch. white plastic hostess trolley and white plastic Xmas tree with matching balls.
As for Clara (now called Marie as she is in Hoffman) and her family — mum is a histrionic, pissed-up, pill-popping housewife; dad is a spivved-up Buddy Holly lookalike; sister Louise (also salvaged from Hoffman) is a micro-mini wearing. teenage nympho; brother Fritz is a square-eyed little fink; and the maid is a skinny-hipped black guy in drag. By the time Marie’s uncle Drossermeyer (what a smoothie! what a guy!) arrives bearing his usual stupendous array of gifts (including the all- important nutcracker). the entire party. bar Marie and Fritz, are tanked up to the gills and either funking it up to Tchaikovsky’s sublime score, snogging in the corner. lighting, or unconscious on the couch.
So how did this debauched house party ever make it to the stage? ‘I decided to make it how a child’s experience of an adult party would be.’
tells Morris. Remember sitting at the top of the stairs watching Uncle Tam and Auntie Betty sipping Tennents lager and getting down to Top ofthe Pops LPs'? ‘lt’s a very fun show to do,’ he admits. ‘But it’s also very complicated. Act One was improvised to begin with. I started by just putting the music on and telling everyone where the door was, who their date was and so on. It sounds like fun, but it’s very tiring — nothing is