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October 01, 2014
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A holiday performance: 'The Nutcracker;’ Traveling to the Land of Sweets

At the end of the first act of “The Nutcracker” there is a battle between mice and soldiers.

By Isabel Braverman

Spanish hot chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, candy cane, marzipan, dewdrop, flowers and sugar plum; these are not the contents of a bakery; this is the lineup of goodies in the Land of Sweets in the second act of “The Nutcracker.”

“The Nutcracker” is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The storyline is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” It premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18, 1892.

According to Wikipedia, “Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was.” However, the complete “Nutcracker” has seen popularity since the late 1960s and is a holiday favorite and yearly tradition for many. It is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S., where a very popular performance is George Balanchine’s production at New York City Ballet. Several performances are also to be found in the Upper Delaware River Valley; they are listed on page 10.

The ballet begins in the home of the Stahlbaums who, with their children Clara and Fritz, are holding a party on Christmas Eve. Party guests arrive with presents that are placed around the Christmas tree and they dance. Suddenly, the clock strikes and everyone freezes as Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician and Clara’s godfather, enters. He gives Clara a wooden nutcracker shaped like a little man, and she is overjoyed and does a dance with the nutcracker. Her younger brother Fritz is jealous of the gift and snatches it from Clara, accidentally breaking it. Soon the party ends and the guests leave. Clara goes to bed but later sneaks back to check on her nutcracker. When she falls asleep, the magic begins.

Clara awakes to find large mice scurrying around her, when she is saved by wooden soldiers who have come to life. The Christmas tree grows larger and larger. Clara’s nutcracker has also come to life, and is leading the soldiers in battle. Just as the mice appear to be winning, Clara throws her slipper at their leader, the Mouse King, who becomes dizzy as the nutcracker stabs him. The Mouse King is dragged off, and Clara pulls the wounded Nutcracker, who is lying on the ground, back to life.Magically, he is transformed into a prince. This begins the duet between Clara and the prince, a dance with music so romantic it can make you cry every time you see it. Then, they are transported to another world: first to a pine forest, as snowflakes dance around them, and next to the Land of Sweets.