So yeah, it’s been a while. And that headline is super lame, but I’ve never been great at those. I do feel bad we’ve been leaving this blog to collect dust, but I do plan to try harder to update it on a more regular basis. Also, I’m thinking about adding vlogging to the mix, so if there are any readers out there and you’d like to suggest a topic, please feel free! And now, my review/trip down memory lane on the Christmas classic, “The Nutcracker.”
With about ten days left until December 25, it‘s very safe to say we are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. And with every holiday, we each have our own memories to accompany it. Mine? Seeing “The Nutcracker” with my dad seated only a few rows from the stage. Being so close I could hear the sound of their feet as they landed and I turned to my dad to whisper excitedly, “I can hear their feet thump!”
It’s a memory that has made The Nutcracker a personal Christmas favorite, the 1980s version we taped once when it was on TV taking place next to A Muppet Christmas Carol and the Rankin and Bass classics as a viewing tradition, though I think it’s because of this memory that I love it so much, not simply for the ballet itself. I’ll admit, however, that my family and I don’t watch it every year and it wasn’t until I found three different productions for my free viewing pleasure on Comcasts’s OnDemand that I rediscovered my love.
Ovation, a channel I have never heard of before but I believe focuses on dance, has an annual tradition of letting its viewers choose its favorite version of the ballet before airing the winning show on Christmas Eve. This year the three versions are the 2009 Ben Wright-directed production, which according to Wikipedia follows closely to the original ballet from 1859 and took a lot of its costuming and set decoration from the available notes of the original. It also broke “A Hard Nut’s” multi-year streak last year when it won as the viewer’s favorite. It’s the nod to the history that I think I enjoy most about this version. The dancing is gorgeous, especially by Miyako Yoshida as the Sugarplum Fairy, and I’m actually glad they took out Mother Ginger and the children. That was always an odd moment for me.
The second version is Matthew Bourne’s “Nutcracker!” an alternate version of the story. Bourne is probably most famously known for his reinventions of classic ballets, specifically “Swan Lake,” and his decision to make the swans male. His version of The Nutcracker takes Clara’s journey to a new level of self-discovery as rather than a magical tour through a candy-filled land, the heroine spends most of the ballet trying to get to the Nutcracker Prince, who has fallen for the sensual Princess Sugar. The entire second act takes place in Sweetieland, where different confectionary treats go for the wedding of the prince and princess, is an allegory for sexual awakening, one that Clara enters not by doing the deed, but by sneaking in therefore leaving her innocence intact, but altered. This production is breath of fresh air into what could be considered a stale story in a selective crowd-pleasing dance genre. The choreography, especially at the start where instead of a Christmas party at a rich family’s home is at a black and white orphanage where Clara and the man who plays the Nutcracker are orphans celebrating Christmas under the mean and watchful eye of the proprietors. The choreography in this opening section is fresh yet classic and the dancers immerse themselves in their roles as children.
The third is a 1999 version from the Berlin State Ballet that starts with Clara as a little girl whose mother is kidnapped and she goes to live with rich and supposedly cruel relatives. They treat her well, except for the bratty daughter and son (which was reminiscent to me of the daughter and son in Bourne’s version) but they aren’t overtly mean. The Nutcracker given to Clara by the magician, who is not the uncle in this version (I think) reminds her of her traumatic childhood. This new addition to the storyline adds a new dance where, upon entering the dreamland, Clara finds her mother who dances with the magician. I was confused as to Clara’s relationship with him because she seemed instantly drawn to him at the Christmas party though I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be because he was so mysterious or if there was some romantic attachment. That was sort of cleared up when Clara seemingly brought him together with her mother, but the entire added storyline confused me. The dancing was superb and I couldn’t help but notice that the entire troupe had extremely long legs and the choreography highlighted it with large leaps, sweeping leg moves and a lot of standing on their toes for the ballerinas (I apologize for my lack of jargon knowledge). What I found an interesting change was that the dances of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier, as well as their pas de deux, was given to Clara and the Nutcracker. The dancers did it brilliantly, however, so the change wasn’t that jarring.
If you’d like to check out more videos or even vote (the contest is open until the 18th) you can go here to Ovation’s website.
To be honest it doesn’t matter which version I watch or which one you end up watching, for me it is the memory of sitting in that darkened theater next to my father, in awe of every graceful movement and completely in love with dance.