It takes some doing on this nation to be greater than about 25 miles from a manufacturing of “The Nutcracker” throughout the Christmas season.
The ballet has turn out to be as American as Friday Evening Lights and as a lot a vacation custom as Frosty the Snowman and Charlie Brown.
It’s a dependable revenue-generator for ballet academies and corporations, and the story and music show up in all places — in books, commercials and popular culture. Its recognition has even pushed a minor trade in toy nutcrackers.
A ballet primarily based on a novella by the Nineteenth-century German romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann — a specialist within the supernatural and weird — and set to music by Russia’s best composer wouldn’t appear an apparent candidate to brush all earlier than it in the US, however so it has proved.
Between the “1812 Overture” and “The Nutcracker,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has a giant hand in celebrations of American holidays — the overture captures and exemplifies the thunderous spirit of nationwide celebration of July 4, and the ballet the child-centric magic and pleasure of the American Christmas.
Like many cultural mainstays of the Christmas season, together with widespread songs, TV exhibits and flicks, “The Nutcracker” is a product of the mid-Twentieth century.
As Jennifer Fisher notes in her e book “Nutcracker Nation,” it was first carried out in December 1892 in St. Petersburg to a blended reception. One harsh assessment referred to as it “a pantomime absurd in conception and execution, which may please solely probably the most uncultured spectators.” It was carried out on and off in Russia for many years, however principal dancers weren’t enamored with it, and it by no means gained a specific affiliation with Christmas.
It got here to our shores with a San Francisco manufacturing in 1944 and, extra considerably, the New York Metropolis Ballet in 1954. CBS broadcasts of the New York productions and additional publicity on different TV exhibits and in nationwide magazines unfold the show’s affect.
The legendary choreographer and creative director of the New York Metropolis Ballet, George Balanchine, lent the ballet his prodigious credibility. If he thought it was OK to provide, who may disagree?
Whereas, in response to Jennifer Fisher, the Russians at all times thought the ballet wanted to be made extra severe, People embraced its hybrid nature — half kids’s pageant, half spectacle and half formal dance. Within the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, it was nonetheless carried out low season, after which, its affiliation with Christmas turned full.
The toys, sweet, snowflakes, merry-making and, particularly, the central function of a kid’s marvel and creativeness make it a pure for the vacation.
Means again when it was first being carried out in Russia, all the youngsters within the manufacturing had been thought-about a distraction. “Within the first scene,” a critic wrote disapprovingly, “all the stage is stuffed with kids, who run about, blow their whistles, hop and bounce, are naughty, and intrude with the fogeys dancing.”
Properly, sure. However isn’t that the purpose?
That the ballet has so many roles for youngsters is a motive it’s good for neighborhood productions. It may draw on younger individuals of all ages and all talent ranges, from little angels and mice to achieved scholar dancers within the lead roles. If a manufacturing is placed on yearly, performers and their households can have a years-long dedication to a show. In lots of locations, this makes “The Nutcracker” as a lot a basic American train in civil society as a ballet.
If the plot of “The Nutcracker” is just not precisely tight and linear, and what’s occurring on stage may be a little bit chaotic, there’s no questioning the standard of the music. Dance critic Alastair Macaulay calls Tchaikovsky’s rating “a cornucopia of colour, rhythm, scale, melody.” It is vitally acquainted — hey, wait a minute, is that from “Residence Alone”? — but at all times highly effective and eminently hummable.
In brief, to paraphrase the well-known Samuel Johnson line about London, in case you are uninterested in “The Nutcracker,” you may be uninterested in Christmas itself.