A holiday performance: 'The Nutcracker;’ Traveling to the Land of Sweets
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.
When the curtain opens on the second act, the stage is spectacularly dazzling as all the dancers are dressed as sweets. The Land of Sweets is ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince. The Nutcracker Prince tells them how Clara saved his life, and all the sweets dance to celebrate the couple. Each of these sweets is represented in its own special dance and also in the music. For Spanish hot chocolate, castanets can be heard in the background; Chinese tea has flutes trilling; and Arabian coffee is moody and mysterious. The score includes widely recognizable music, like the “Waltz of the Flowers.” The celebration concludes with a pas de deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the prince, which includes a duet, two solos, and a grand coda. All the sweets come back on stage to do a final coda and the Sugar Plum Fairy bids them all farewell.
The curtain closes and re-opens again in the Stahlbaum’s living room. In some versions, Clara is asleep and then wakes up, wondering if it was all a dream. In other versions, Clara holds her wooden Nutcracker in her arms. Both endings ask the question: was the Land of Sweets real, or was it all a dream? Either way, this lovable tale is magical.
The Dance Center’s Delaware Valley Dance Company
Saturday, November 30 at 12 noon and 7 p.m.
At the Delaware Valley High School auditorium in Milford, PA
Tickets: $12 ($8 for child and senior) in advance, $14 ($10 child and senior) at the door
More info: 845/856-3373 or www.thedancecenterpj.com
Marya Kennett Dance Centre
Saturday, December 21 and Sunday, December 22 at 1 p.m.
At the Paramount Theater in Middletown, NY
Tickets: $18, $16 for seniors and kids
More info: 845/294-7262
Scranton Civic Ballet Company
Friday, December 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, December 14 at 2 p.m.
At the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple in Scranton, PA
More info: 570/343-0115 or www.scrantoncivicballet.com
New York City productions
American Ballet Theatre
December 13 to December 22, times vary
At the Peter Jay Sharp Building in BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, NY
Tickets start at $25
More info: 212/477-3030 or www.abt.org
New York City Ballet
November 29 to January 4, times vary
At the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center
Tickets start at $34
More info: www.nycballet.com