Children play in the shadow of a Hill’s Hoist, skipping and kicking a footy ball around as the buzz of cicadas fills the air. An elderly woman passes them, struggling home with a bag of shopping and a tiny Christmas tree. As she turns on the radio, the crackly strains of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcrackerscore emerge, and the orchestra starts to play.

The Nutcracker, Australian Ballet Amelia Soh as Clara the child and Natasha Kusen. Photograph © Daniel Boud

Graeme Murphy’s imaginative and touching retelling of The Nutcrackeris worlds removed from traditional productions of the ballet – hence its title Nutcracker – The Story of Clara. And yet it is full of references to the original version, choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1892, while celebrating the history of ballet in Australia and offering moving observations on the life of a dancer. Created for the Australian Ballet in 1992, and affectionately dubbed “The Gum-Nutcracker”, Murphy’s two-act ballet was last seen in 2009. Now, the AB is staging a fourth revival of the work in honour of its 25th anniversary.

Traditionally The Nutcrackeris a Christmas ballet with a magician, a child called Clara who...