The 2016 festive season has brought The Nutcracker back in Florence and that is a Christmas present in its own right. Flocks of children and enthusiastic ballet lovers gathered, last Thursday, to assist the event also marking the return of Italian choreographer and former La Scala dancer Amedeo Amodio to the Teatro Verdi after a successful performance of his Carmen last April, and inscribed within a tour taking the so-called 1989 jewel of Italian dance productions out of the closet and around the peninsula. Did the event live up to the expectations and enchant the spirits? Alas, the answer will be a disappointment-flavoured 'not so much'.

© Yasuko Kageyama | Opera di Roma
© Yasuko Kageyama | Opera di Roma

While it is unquestionable that Amodio's production (originally created for ATERBalletto), is unique – both in the decision to stage Hoffman's original story, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, rather than Alexandre Dumas' 'remake' and in its captivating and polychromatic set designs and costumes by Emanuele Luzzati – it is also evident that the bold choice was only half carried out. However theatrically beautiful, the show suffers from a frustrating lack of plot cohesion and intelligibility, and occasional narrative redundancies. These were accompanied by anticlimactic flash-forwards in Tchaikovsky's score. The Waltz of the Snowflakes theme was used twice, though, clearly, only once was it used to accompany the snowflakes themselves - a device that spoiled the magic and marked an annoying disruption of the conceptual cohesion at the heart of Tchaikovsky's music. There's a general sense that the choreographer is hiding some structural deficiencies behind the blurred lines between reality and dream (a problem already haunting the production of Carmen, albeit in a less harming manner). A dream should not imply illogicity, let alone a lack of fil rouge in the storyline leading to the audience being left with an increasing number of questions as to who does what and why.

There is some good news from the front, however. This Nutcracker benefits from an intelligent and visually stunning use of shadow play - Amodio's homage to the popularity of shadow puppetry over the course of the 17th and 18th century. At times a meta-theatrical explanatory expedient, a tool of interaction with Drosselmeyer or the animator of the battle between the mice and the Nutcracker, shadow play saves the First Act, even though it doesn't make up for the lack of anything truly worthy of note, pantomime-wise or choreography-wise.

Flash-forward to Act II and the game slightly improves. However impardonable in his slayering of the magical Waltz of the Snowflakes (here featuring far-too-young dancers), Amodio must here be praised for enriching a traditional structure with interesting references to other choreographic worlds. Hence, the Arabian Dance becomes a sinuous reference to Fokine's Scheherazade, while the Chinese morph to a pseudo-pas de deux between a cup of tea and a teapot that is a clear homage to L'Enfant et les sortilèges. All through the second act, a rather synchronised and talented corps makes its elegant way through the only innovative part in the choreography, ranging from the most classical Petipa tradition to ballroom waltz, to the postmodern half-russian folk, half-breakdance - an unexpectedly well-blended palette. The act culminates with the famous Grand pas de deux - superbly danced by principals Anbeta Toromani and Alessandro Macario (a principal of the San Carlo Theatre) – of which the choreographer maintains the Petipa style, despite losing some complex passages, particularly in the female solo variation. Anbeta, a tall and regal dancer graced with wonderful lines and feet, suffers from a certain lack of fluidity and speed, so one wonders whether Amodio's slight fixes have been made to better accommodate her features. Nonetheless, her chemistry with Alessandro Macario and her lyrical épaulements and ports de bras, combined with an unexpected degree of freedom from 'obsession with execution', are a breath of fresh air. The academic poetry of the lead couple blissfully carries the audience towards a state of temporary oblivion with regards to the largerly repetitive and flat choreographic phrasing on display all through the first act and in the latter part of the second act. The fact that Marie morphs from a kid into an adult already towards the end of the first act remains unexplained

The ballet, albeit well-danced and cleverly staged, is excessively flawed, confusing and hard to follow. Such lack of 'grip' is hardly due to the fact that the ballet uses the least popular version of the story, but rather because said story is only hinted at. Moreover, the not-so-linear use of Tchaikovsky's music, as well as the not-so-musical choreography full of temps morts, sabotaged the crescendo of emotions, as well as the 'sensory involvement'.

Though pleasant, the evening sadly did not live up to the expectations and failed to produce the magic that the synergy betweenTchaikovsky's score, great storytelling and musical choreography generally produce.