History in the Making

THE NUTCRACKER (yes, in all uppercase)

In case I haven’t been explicit in past posts, the Nutcracker is my favourite ballet. I know that some people say that it is too simplistic and too mainstream, but I love it anyways. It is Christmas-y and elegant and fun and challenging for the dancers (depending on the role). What I find most fascinating about it? There is no completely standard Nutcracker! Every company makes their own mark on it, and it makes it interesting to seek it out.

Originally written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman, the Nutcracker was adapted to ballet by Tchaikovsky in 1891 (opening 1892). It didn’t become popular outside of Russia until the 1940s, when it was performed in England. It truly took off in 1954 when George Balanchine staged it in New York. (Found on 159 of The World Encyclopedia of Christmas) The story? Clara (also referred to as Marie) is a young girl celebrating Christmas with her family. Her god-father Drosselmeyer gives her the famed Nutcracker, her brother breaks it. Drosselmeyer fixes it! Yay! She falls asleep, and dreams of a battle between the Nutcracker and his men, and the Mouse King and his army. The Nutcracker wins! Yay! Clara and her Nutcracker prince are transported to the Magic Kingdom where they see all of the people of his kingdom perfume. You have the Spanish dance (aka hot chocolate), the Chinese dance (aka tea), the Russian dance (aka coffee), and the Sugarplum Fairy! She wakes up in her bed on Christmas morning.

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That is your basic story! There are quite a few variations. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet changed in the early two thousands to have it set at Marie’s birthday rather than Christmas- this change only lasted five years or so. In the south, ballet companies will have Civil War soldiers. The RWB has Mounties fighting on Parliament Hill! Our version also starts with boys playing street hockey outside of a Victorian home. I find that those regional touches make it a special experience for those in the audience! It also makes it fun for people like me who try to see as many different companies as possible perform this. I have thus far seen the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (countless times), Ballet Ireland, and Ballet West. I’m hoping to add the Pacific Northwest Ballet at Christmas!

If you are interested in the Nutcracker, here is Nutcracker Nation (posted about a few weeks ago). Also, the entire score on Youtube! And a super badass Nutcracker ornament!

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Do you have any Nutcracker traditions?

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!

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