Through the open doors of Kom Tong Hall, Clara and her family and friends dance around in early 20th century Hong Kong. The stage reveals sets and designs which are familiar to most of us and are a significant part of Clara's magical journey.
As the story unfolds, it uncovers the underlying Hong Kong roots behind the characters and stage designs. The Nutcracker, created by Septime Webre and his team, incorporates Hong Kong history and customs into the ballet classic and pays tribute to local culture, showcasing the former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, rickshaws, Cheung Chau Bun Festival, shadow puppet theatre, delicious dim sum and much more. Employing exquisite ballet language and innovative design elements, The Nutcracker opens up the local cultural context, expressing the sentiments of old Hong Kong through the ballet. In between the splendid designs and stage space, a poetic fantasy emerges.
Hong Kong Ballet is honoured to present The Nutcracker to everyone, and we hope you enjoy our delightful creation. The show will end, but The Nutcracker story lingers.
Kom Tong Hall
The facade of the building you first see in our production of The Nutcracker, which is the home of our protagonist Clara and her family, is inspired by Kom Tong Hall, now the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum. Built in the Composite Classical style popular in the Edwardian Colonial period in Hong Kong, Kom Tong Hall features red brick walls, granite dressings around the windows and doors and ornate ironwork on the balconies. Kom Tong Hall was built in 1914 and first owned by Ho Kom Tong, brother of the renowned Sir Robert Ho Tung. It remained the residence of the Ho family until 1960. Sir Robert Ho Tung is one of the distinguished party guests in Act I of our Nutcracker!
Photo Credit: Antiquities and Monuments Office
Info source: Antiquities and Monuments Office
Former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower
In the lavish set of our Nutcracker, you will spot the familiar site of The former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower! The Clock Tower, built in 1915, was built with red bricks and granite in Classical Revival style. It is 44 metres high and has a lightning rod on top of the dome. The Tsim Sha Tsui terminus building of Kowloon-Canton Railway Kowloon Terminus was demolished in 1978, leaving only this clock tower, which has stood as a Hong Kong landmark ever since.
Photo Credit: Antiquities and Monuments Office
Rickshaw Driver & Chestnut Seller
In the early 20th century, it was common for people to travel in rickshaws. At the start of our ballet, one of our party guests, a beautiful famous Shanghai movie star, arrives at Clara’s family Christmas Party on one of them. Before entering the beautiful house, our characters also meet a hawker selling roasted chestnuts on the street. Roasted chestnuts are a common delicious street food and are still sold in Hong Kong nowadays.
Tao Sifu and his Nephew
Two central characters of our Nutcracker are Tao Sifu and his nephew. Traditionally Nutcracker has a Drosselmeyer character who is a magician, gifts Clara a Nutcracker doll and brings her to the land of magic. In our production, Tao Sifu is also a magician with a Chinese flair, hence his surname is Tao (道), hinting at a link with Taoism.
Tao Sifu’s nephew, who also comes to Clara’s family Christmas party, is a war hero from the Revolutionary Army. Clara falls in love with him and later he is transformed into the Nutcracker Prince.
Amahs & Ming Suk
In the early 20th century, rich families often had both female and male household staff members, usually called Amahs and Ah Suk (named Ming Suk in our production, as Ming is quite a common name for men). Can you spot them during the Prologue of the ballet?
Paintings from Hong Kong Museum of Art
As we enter the ballroom of Clara’s home, we see a huge collection of paintings and artwork. We have specially partnered with the Hong Kong Museum of Art and selected 21 paintings from their collection to feature in this iconic set. For more details of the artwork, please click here.
Sir Robert Ho Tung
Sir Robert Ho Tung was one of the most influential businessmen and philanthropists in Hong Kong’s history. As a business mogul and a billionaire, Hutong never spared in giving back his wealth to the community. For all his contributions, Hotung was recognised in the local community as the “grand old man of Hong Kong”, while officially, he was knighted by King George V as Knight Bachelor in 1915 and then by Queen Elizabeth II as Knight Commander in 1955.
Sir Robert Ho Tung is one of the distinguished party guest in Act I of our Nutcracker!
Photo Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London
Info source: SCMP
Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling
Dr Sun Yat-sen was a world-renowned revolutionary who devoted his entire life to overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and setting up the Republic of China. Dr Sun had a close relationship with Hong Kong, where he received his secondary and university education. Hong Kong was also the cradle of his revolutionary thoughts and uprising plans.
Soong Ching-ling was the wife of Dr Sun Yat-sen. She was an influential political figure in China after her husband’s death. Both Dr Sun Yat-sen and Song Qingling are amongst the party guests in our Nutcracker Party Scene!
Photo Credit: Dr. Sun Yat-sen Hawaii Foundation
Info source: Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum
Shanghai Movie Star
One of our party guests is inspired by the iconic 1930s Shanghainese movie star Lily Yuen. Beloved by her fans, the actress was extraordinarily beautiful and talented but tragically died at an early age.
Info source: Wikipedia
Chinese and Western Style Costumes
In the Act 1 party scene, guests come in a mix of Chinese and Western style dresses and outfits, representing the mix of cultures in Hong Kong in the early 20th century.
Chinese Shadow Puppet Theatre
During the Christmas Party in Act I, Tao Sifu brings a Chinese Shadow Puppet Theatre set to entertain the party guests and children. He shows the story of the Battle between the Nutcracker and the evil Rat King with the shadow puppets. The design of the puppet theatre is inspired by the temporary bamboo Cantonese Opera theatres found in Hong Kong.
Peony & Red-crowned Crane
In Act 1's party scene, Tao Sifu brings two sets of life-sized dolls who dance for the guests. A pair of dolls emerge from a huge vase - a Peony and a Red-Crowned Crane. Peonies often appear with cranes in Chinese paintings and other artworks to symbolise wealth and longevity.
Info source: CGTN, Bloom and wild
In the party scene in Act I of our ballet, Tao Sifu brings in two sets of life size dolls which comes alive and dance for the guests. One of them is a Monkey King, an iconic character in Chinese folklore born from stone who acquires supernatural powers and the main character in the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West.
Info source: Wikipedia
Victoria Harbour & Victoria Peak
Two iconic Hong Kong landscape features - Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak - are prominently featured in The Nutcracker's Act II set. During the climactic battle scene, the evil Rat King navigates Victoria Harbour and arrives on a pirate junk. All the Act II divertissements are joyously performed in front of Victoria Peak's gorgeous view.
Cheung Po Tsai
The villainous Rat King and his army fight an epic battle against the Nutcracker and his battalion of toy soldiers. The Rat King's costume is inspired by the notorious Hong Kong pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who had the largest pirate kingdom 'Red Flag Fleet' in the Ching Dynasty with tens of thousands of loyal followers and 600 ships under his command.
One of the traditional toys in Hong Kong are flour dolls. They are hand made and sold on the streets and were a favourite for children in the olden days. The most recognisable flour dolls are those of the traditional lucky trio “Fuk Luk Sau”, symbolizing fortune, wealth and longevity. These flour dolls come to life when the Christmas Tree grows bigger after Clara goes to sleep.
In traditional Chinese culture, bamboo is a symbol of beauty, representing moral integrity, persistence, modesty and loyalty. After the battle with the Rat King, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince come across a beautiful bamboo forest covered in snow and meet the Snow King and Queen!
Chinese White Dolphins
In the first of our Act II divertissements, five majestic Peacocks dance for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Peacocks, although not native to Hong Kong, are a wonderful sight to see when visiting the Kowloon Park or Hong Kong Botanical Gardens.
White Snake & the Academic
During Act II's divertissements, mythological Chinese folklore character White Snake appears with her love interest the Academic to dance a sensual pas de deux.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Following the White Snake and the Academic's dance, a huge celebration ensues! The Cheung Chau Bun Festival is one of Hong Kong's most important festivals, celebrating Buddha's birthday. During the Festival, people bravely climb tall towers covered in lucky steamed buns, competing to collect as many as they can. This is also a parade with children's floats and a lion dance!
In one of the Act II divertissements, you will see an exciting horse race with jockeys busting out their best moves in their brightly coloured outfits! Hong Kong has over 150 years of horse racing history and the sport is one of the most beloved activities for the people in Hong Kong.
Yellow-crested Cockatoos and the White Tiger
Five beautiful playful yellow-crested Cockatoos dance in the fourth Divertissements in Act II of our Nutcracker. Yellow-crested Cockatoos are commonly found in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong has become home to the second largest wild population of the species. During the dance, the cockatoos are visited by a surprise guest - a white tiger! Tigers were sighted in the 1900s in Hong Kong, with the most famous case being a tiger that attacked two policemen in 1915. It was subsequently hunted down, and today, the tiger's head is displayed in the Hong Kong Police Museum.
Info source: Greenpower, HK01
In Act II, the last of the divertissements is led by Mother Dim Sum! From her huge dim sum basket skirt, dancers as different delicious dim sum come out to join the dance. Dim Sum is a beloved Hong Kong breakfast. Which one is your favourite?
The Bauhinia flower is Hong Kong’s emblem. Act II of our Nutcracker production is set against a blooming backdrop of Bauhinia Flowers, and 12 beautiful Bauhinia Flowers dance the iconic Waltz of the Flowers. The scientific flower name for the Bauhinia is Bauhinia x Blakeana.
At the end of the ballet, a huge black kite bird takes Clara home from her magical journey. Black kites are Hong Kong’s most familiar bird of prey. These eagle-like birds can regularly be found soaring and swooping over the famous Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is one of only a few places in the world where you can see this majestic bird up close in an urban area.
Info source: Culture Trip
Nature and Wildlife
Our production of The Nutcracker is brimming with wildlife creatures large and small. Some of them abound in Hong Kong and add texture to the story. The animals and insects featured include butterflies, hummingbirds, red pandas, hedgehogs, frogs, rabbits, wild boars and foxes.
All the above sketches and renderings of set and costume designs: Gabriela Tylesova and Au Yu Kong