The story of the Nutcracker is one of the most classic Christmas stories – probably one of the first things that comes to our minds when we start seeing Christmas decorations throughout the city along with all that magical energy from this time of the year.
Who never sang the Sugar Plum Fairy song – even on their minds – at least once in their lifetime?
I studied dance since I was little – going through ballet and jazz mostly – so we have a tiny collection of ballet DVDs/Blu Rays here at home, and we always have fun watching live or in videos.
Although I was always the rebellious kid that wanted to wear white tights, black leotards, blue skirts and silver dancing shoes – while my sister was a perfect pink ballet princess – we love dance nontheless.
So today I’m here to introduce you to the marvelous production that is The Nutcracker ballet and maybe awaken your interest into the classic ballet world too!
When the clock strikes midnight, the lunar lands will transform into the sugary lands – and we’ll go with Clara and the Nutcracker to get to know more about this great Christmas adventure!
Another thing I’ve studied since I was young and I’m platonically in love is music. Studying piano, I was also the rebellious little girl that wanted to play hard rock songs instead of classical ones – but that didn’t stop me from researching about it and to have my favourite composers.
One of them is Tchaikovsky!
Born in May 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most well known classical composers of the world. With three ballets in his career, he was responsible for the soundtracks of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker – apart from famous compositions like 1812 Overture (as mentioned by Selene on the post about V for Vendetta, that you can find here) and Romeo and Juliet. The composer died in 1893, at the age of 53, under contradictory circumstances.
Composed by two acts, the ballet was based on the story by E.T.A Hoffmann – but altered to be lighter and more attractive to the audience. Each song tells a part of the story, apart from presenting other characters or showing new ambiences.
Personally, I believe the most famous songs from the ballet are:
- Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Audio on Youtube);
- Waltz of the Flowers (Audio on Youtube);
- Tea (Chinese Dance) (Audio on Youtube);
- Candy Cane (Russian Dance) (Audio on Youtube);
- March (Audio on Youtube);
- Waltz of the Snowflakes (Audio on Youtube).
Probably, those compositions – and many others! – were already heard in movies, animated pieces, Christmas theaters and many other places!
Quick curiosity: classical songs are usually used in media productions because the copyrights have already expired and might be utilized without authorization/royalties to the original author or his family. That’s why we listen in so many places!
And that’s how Tchaikovsky’s composition for this wonderful ballet became such a huge part of our lives and humanity patrimony in general – as I believe it’ll still be during many years in the future.
From Failure to a Christmas Classic
Originally coreographed by Marius Petipa, fro the Imperial Russian Ballet, The Nutcracker gained life with a ballet in two acts in December 1892. Presented on the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky wrote to a friend saying that although his opera Iolanta – which debuted alongside the ballet – was a success, the ballet wasn’t, classifying it as boring and infinitelly worst than the Sleeping Beauty.
(Poor man, if only he know how much people love those ballets now – I myself consider his three ballets my favourites)
Besides that, they say the initial failure wasn’t the composers fault – Petipa got sick during the rehearsals and the coreography was done by his assistant, the scenery and costumes weren’t well done and the performance of the ballerina selected for the Sugar Plum Fairy was very criticized. In short: a series of factors that fell like a card castle.
All the current fame, though, I think can be credited to the New York City Ballet – co-founded by Balanchine, the dancer and choreographer was responsible for bringing a renewed version of The Nutcracker, being that the performance of Maria Tallchief as the Sugar Plum Fairy sealed the spectacle as a classic.
Thank you, Maria, for making our Christmas more magical!
After all, because of her performance, from 1960 the Nutcracker became an annual ballet – making it become the tradition we have nowadays!
The Story of “The Nutcracker”!
The plot of the ballet is set on Germany, in a Christmas Eve. Herr Drosselmeier is the uncle of Clara and Fritz, the children of the family who gives a party to many guests. With magics and toys, Drosselmeier keep the children entretained and gives Clara a Nutcracker – that the other children weren’t interested in, but Clara immediately likes and asks for a human sized one.
Jealous, Fritz breaks the doll, but Drosselmeier fixes it. With the children getting sleepy as the night goes by, it eventually ends with everyone in the party going to sleep – aside from Clara, who wants to play with the Nutcracker and sleeps at the living room.
To her surprise, when she wakes up after midnight, the room is filled with mice. Drosselmeier rescues her with magic, making everything grow taller, guaranteeing then the girl’s wish of a Nutcracker the size of a human being – the Nutcracker Prince.
It’s on this moment that the Prince battles with the Mouse King for the Castle of the Snow King and Queen. Clara helps the Prince, throwing one of her slippers on the Mouse King, making the Nutcracker able to kill the king.
(After all, who never took a lethal shoe on the face, right? The children from Brazilian mothers have a lot to tell you about flying shoes)
As a way of thanking her, the Prince invites Clara to follow him on the Magical Forest, to meet the Snow King and Queen, as well as the Snowflakes. And, then, both go to the Nutcracker Kingdom.
Telling everyone how Clara saved his life, tha Sugar Plum Fairy – who rules alongside the Nutcracker – gives Clara a crown and starts festivities for the girl. Therefore, we have many dances with a great variety of characters and ethnicities, all in homage to Clara.
And, at last, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker perform a grand pas de deus to finish celebrations. It’s the song I like most from all the ballet and, whenever I listen or watch it, I can’t stop myself from crying, I don’t know why. Buy it’s wonderful.
Clara is then guided by the pages of the kingdom back to her living room, waking up, finally, at the sofa. Embracing her Nutcracker, the girl can only ask herself: all that was just a dream or a memory of something that really happened?
The Nutcracker Around
Apart from the ballet, I think many people can recognize the Nutcracker from reference in many media means!
People from the 90’s must remember Barbie Nutcracker, an animation from 2001. The movie tells – in an adapted way, with certain alterations to the story – the journey of Clara alongside the Nutcracker while his lands are taken by the Mouse King, being that both need to defeat him to find the Sugar Plum Fairy and take back the kingdom.
(Hello from the person who still has the video tape from this movie, kisses of light)
Another one that must be remembered a lot is Fantasia, a Disney movie from 1940 – yes, the one that has the Wizard Apprentice Mickey and the bewitched brooms! The movie ended up as one of the most experimental Disney movies, filles with animations and classical music, including some from the Nutcracker! I think the most known, though, is the Chinese mushroom dance.
(I LOVE MY MUSHROOMS AND WILL PROTECT THEM FOREVER)
Now for the fans of bizarre and creppy things – like me – our favourite horror dog has an episode with the theme. Yes! Courage, the Cowardly Dog has the Nutcracker episode, an at least weird adaptation of the classical story in a junkyard with a broken doll and dancing rats.
(Because Courga stole our sleep, but even so it was super fun to watch)
These are just some examples of the usage of the songs and ballet dances on pop culture – there are so many I think it would be possible to make a whole post only with references.
Besides, who never heard a Nutcracker song playing randomly on a shopping mall or something like that during December? You yourself must remember hearing some of theese songs or seen some ballet reference somewhere!
Watch the Nutcracker Ballet!
Have you ever had the chance to watch live and miss it? Or you never had the chance and always wanted – but, as we know, ballet tickets are expensive and not that accesible?
Don’t worry! Artemis is here to help you celebrate Christmas with this beautiful and magic adventure!
(I never felt as much as a Disney princess than now)
Youtube has many official ballet company channels! You can find both the full ballet as well as specific dances you want to watch! Royal Opera House, Russian State Ballet, Opéra National de Paris…. The choices are many!
I’ll leave some of the complete ballets below – who’s interested, watch it! Uou won’t regret!
And for this year, the St. Louis Ballet company prepared the classical presentation with Act I being from 2019 and Act II by their dancers following the security measures because of COVID – with many apprentices dancing in a group call during the intervals. Cool, huh?! I thought it was an amazing idea!
At the end, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas! I hope it to be a time filled with magic: 2020 wasn’t the best of years, but we had a lot to learn and reflect in order to give better steps from now on. I think this Christmas will be filled with union and fraternity than many others, because we got reminded of the importance of other people in our lives and that there are many things bigger than the individualistic narcisism form day to day. Thank you a lot for following us since our very recent debut and thanks a lot for our new writers! I hope to see you around again so we can celebrate Christmas on lunar lands together through many years!
May your Christmas be full of magic, joy, union and finally not missing those we couldn’t meet properly this year (even if by a video conference)!
(And without mice/rats too, please)
To those who got this far and just want to listen to the songs to feel inside a Royal Opera House production on daily life (like I usually do, judge me, I like being a Sugar Plum Fairy), here’s a Spotify playlist with the songs of our dearest Tchaikovsky!