Bourne is not a classical choreographer, and he takes some wicked liberties. Act 1 is set in a bleak Dickensian orphanage, where Clara and her fellow orphans are danced by a wonderfully motley group of adults. Knobbly, plump, tiny and tall, some with glasses, some with sticky-out ears, they look exactly like a crew of unwanted kids. And Bourne structures their dancing around brilliantly convincing touches of mischief and pathos as they are bullied by Dr Dross and his blissfully obnoxious progeny Fritz and Sugar.
Antony Ward's designs then shift the work into startling fantasy. When midnight strikes, the orphanage walls crack open and a terrified Clara sees her Nutcracker doll become a lumbering Frankenstein (danced by the 6ft-plus Andrew George). She and the kids are led away to the Kingdom of Snow, an exquisite place of dreamy perspectives and silvered light where the Nutcracker is transformed into a gorgeous Hunk.
This scene is one of several where Bourne chimes perfectly with the heady nostalgia of Tchaikovsky's music. It is pure Hollywood with its chorus of muscle-flexing men and its fluttering white satin frocks. It is pure erotic fantasy - as Clara sinks against the Hunk's pectorals in a sexual trance. It is also wish-fulfilment of the most innocent, unabashed and delightful kind.
But gratification is deferred as the ruthless Sugar steals Clara's Hunk and most of Act 2 is taken up with their wedding preparations. Bourne re-writes the traditional National Dances as numbers for the Sweetie guests - and I've never seen then bettered. A trio of Licorice Allsorts performs a snatch of erotically fraught flamenco; the Arabian dance (Bourne as a hashish-smoking Knickerbocker Glory) is a solo of preposterously louche gyrations. And at the climax the guests end up on a giant wedding cake, sashaying through a Busby Berkeley- style number, licking the icing and each other with rude appreciation.
Glorious and funny as all this is, there are minor problems. In moments like the Grand Pas you seriously miss the grandeur of the classical language, and there are passages where Bourne's semi-pedestrian language gets bogged down in repetition. But I have sat through Nutcrackers infinitely more repetitious and the dancers' exemplary comic performances prevent this one flagging. It is also one of the few Nutcrackers with a completely satisfactory ending - but that would be telling.
Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Ave, EC1 (071- 278 8916) To 18 Dec
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