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Danish Queen sets stage for Tivoli Nutcracker

Denmark's Queen Margrethe II is designing stage sets and costumes for a new production of "The Nutcracker" that will situate the ballet with Tchaikovsky's music in Copenhagen in the era of Hans Christian Andersen.
/ Source: Reuters

Denmark's Queen Margrethe II is designing stage sets and costumes for a new production of "The Nutcracker" that will situate the ballet with Tchaikovsky's music in Copenhagen in the era of Hans Christian Andersen.

The 71-year-old queen, who is celebrating 40 years on the throne this year, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that she wanted to create a special "Nutcracker" for adults and children alike and that she was easily persuaded to do the job.

The show will open at the concert hall of Tivoli Gardens, the venerable Copenhagen amusement park, on November 22. Twenty-eight performances are scheduled up to December 22.

"I was very easily caught, I must say," said the queen who was asked to join the project just over a year ago.

The queen, who opened a large exhibition of her paintings at a Copenhagen art museum in January, has designed stage sets and costumes for the theatre since the late 1980s. Among her earlier work were scenes for four small productions at Tivoli's pantomime theatre from 2001 to 2009.

"It's very exciting to do a full-length ballet with a lot of costumes and a more demanding kind of scenery," she said.

In all, the project involves designing more than 100 costumes and four large stage sets for a cast of 36 dancers.

The queen was asked by Tivoli's ballet chief, Peter Bo Bendixen, to join the team, and her designs are now ready to be handed over to the workers - the sets to be built and painted in Copenhagen and the costumes sewn in London.

"These are enlarged copies of my drawings for some of the costumes, and here you have a small maquette of a part of the stage as it will be in the first scene," she said, as she presented her work at a restaurant in Tivoli.

"This is my first sketch of what it might look like...Only the day before yesterday we presented the whole production for Tivoli," she added.

"It will be ready in time in November for the great occasion of the first night...," she said.

The Nutcracker, first staged at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre in 1892, begins on Christmas Eve in the home of the young heroine, Clara, who falls asleep and slips into the dream world where mice battle with gingerbread men and the toy soldier nutcracker grows to life size.


The Tivoli production will be a Copenhagen story and a Tivoli fairy tale set in the 1870s, with H.C. Andersen, who has no link with The Nutcracker but was author of world-famous fairy tales such as "The Ugly Duckling", an important figure.

"After the mouse war is over, she flies not to the Sugar Plum Fairies' country, but to Tivoli and in her dream, Tivoli is a magical summer evening," Bendixen said at the queen's side.

The queen said she wanted Clara's home to be warm and intimate with many guests.

"And then in her dream she starts off with these rather vicious little mice who do battle with the toy soldiers and her nutcracker soldier," she said.

The mice are overcome, and then Clara and her brother are caught in a snow storm, and she has a battle with the snow flakes, the queen said.

"When the snow scene is over, we are in Copenhagen, and Copenhagen is completed smothered in snow right up to the tops of the spires that stick out of the snow," she said. "From that frozen world she suddenly finds herself on a warm summer evening in Tivoli."

The Tivoli Gardens in central Copenhagen opened in 1843.

"And we hope that this will have a magical effect on the audience as well," she said.

The queen, who opinion polls show to be the most popular monarch in Europe, said she had first seen The Nutcracker as a grown up, not as a child, but was charmed by it from the start.

"The very first one is my Nutcracker, and I have tried not to do the same thing obviously, but it is somewhere in the back of my mind, a lot of the charm of that Nutcracker."

"But I think this looks quite different really," she said of her designs.

"But, of course, the great difference between our production here and most of the ones you see is that Tivoli plays a special role, and that gives a different feel, I suppose."

The queen is working on the project with Bendixen, Christian Tom-Petersen, her close associate on the set designs, and Welshman Alan Watkins, a costume designer who has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and opera at Covent Garden in London.

"This kind of production will only work if we are frank and honest in the creative process," said Bendixen. "Even if you are working with Her Majesty, you will only get anywhere, get good results if you...have the discussions and the disagreements and most of all the honesty."

Watkins, who has been watching the design process and joined in planning meetings, said the project was now ready to move on to producing costumes in London.

"And I feel privileged because not only do I think she is a very fine designer...but also a project which is very Danish and very much about Copenhagen, so I want to make sure we reflect that in the costumes we make," he said.