A Christmas cracker with a fresh twist

The Nutcracker provided the perfect backdrop to promote Baileys during the festive season, David Kolbusz writes.

Work debrief

In the UK, Christmas has become our Super Bowl. In the case of Baileys, the brief we were originally given was to introduce a new way of serving it – in a long-stemmed wine glass. By coincidence, it was due to air over the Christmas season. For whatever reason, we chose to interpret that as "make a Christmas ad" and never looked back.

The creative idea

Ed Cole and Lewis Mooney found this high-fashion spread featuring toy soldiers and women dressed as dolls. It was from there that the idea of creating a modernised version of The Nutcracker sprang. Updating a classical ballet didn’t seem like enough, though, so we added the twist of Clara choosing her friends over the Nutcracker Prince. This also served to make it feel uniquely Baileys.

The dance

With Ringan Ledwidge on board, he introduced us to the famed dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who secured us some of the world’s best dancers. Steven McRae was perfect as the strong yet sympathetic Nutcracker Prince. Thiago Soares is a lovely guy but, as the Mouse King, he looked like pure evil. Iana Salenko was an utterly enchanting Clara – delicate and graceful in her movements, but with a strength and ferocity that came out in the fight scene.

We had to tell a complicated story in a condensed timeframe, and choreography was absolutely key. We started in New York and it was amazing to see how quickly Ben and his people worked, revising the routine based on immediate feedback. It begins as a classical piece of ballet but, when the fight plotline is introduced, the moves become more progressive. It was essential that the fight still communicated as dance, and that was a tough balance to strike, especially because Ringan’s camera was in and around the dancers. It was shot and cut like a fight scene.

It’s a testament to both Benjamin and Ringan that they made it work without anything feeling forced.

The music

We had Nicholas Britell’s rearrangement of the music before we choreographed. The music needed to immediately cue what the film was but quickly evolve in a way that matched the action. We resisted going down the path of a proper remix – we still wanted the film to feel elegant and classical, in spite of our efforts to modernise it.

The set

A lot of credit for how the piece looks can be taken by our production designer, Sarah Greenwood. She created a bespoke environment and decorated the perfect space for the action to play out. Her initial stimulus felt spot-on, capturing a look and feel that was both elegant and – as Ringan likes to put it – oily. Sumptuous grit, if you will.

The costumes

The costumes were designed by Rosa Dias. We set out to create two distinct tribes – the Nutcracker Prince with his comrades, and the Mouse King with his cronies. Rosa made the Nutcracker gang look like weathered soldiers – as if they’d just returned from years at war. The Mouse King and co were meant to look like a biker gang styled by Dior Homme. Clara and her friends’ dresses needed to feel contemporary but still with a nod to classical ballet attire. The boning on the dresses was key for the
actual dancing so that Clara could be lifted.

The client

Credit must be given to Garbhan O’Bric and his team, who gave us the freedom to make the film we wanted to. Ringan’s treatment was delightfully dark but a challenging thing for a client to buy outright. We knew that a lot of life and humanity would be injected through the performances but, off the page, it read like a nightmare. But the team were nothing but enthusiastic and supportive all the way.

The launch

Teasers ran online and in digital outdoor before a two-minute version broke during the UK TV première of Black Swan on Channel 4. Fans were able to get a first look at the film on the Baileys Facebook page the day before.

David Kolbusz (pictured) is the deputy executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty


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