The Nutcracker Ballet: Timeless Magic

So the reason I’m including this in the Hamburg section is because my beloved city has a beautiful cinema, the Passage Kino, and for a few years now they have been showing live broadcasts of selected ballets performed by the Bolshoi Theater ensemble in Moscow. I have increasingly enjoyed going to ballet performances as I grew up, but since childhood I have deeply loved three of Tchaikovsky’s ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and, a special favourite, The Nutcracker.

These live broadcasts are a fantastic option for those of us who might not always make it to a live performance on stage, but are dying to get their classical Russian ballet fix AND like a good bargain, because obviously prices for the cinema tickets differ considerably from theater ones. AND you can see everything. AND I love going to the movies as well. THOUGH I would also love to one day see a performance in the Bolshoi Theater itself. BUT I also feel patriotic about the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, where I saw all those ballets first, and they remain the most beautiful performances I have ever been to.

Anyway, I just went to a live Bolshoi broadcast of The Nutcracker, ’tis the season, and here’s a trailer.

The magical, familiar score of the ballet carried me home and I found myself thinking of The Nutcracker‘s timeless appeal. What made this particular ballet such a hit, year after year? Why did I still feel a strong pull to see it whenever December rolled around?

There is a lot to say about this, without getting technical, and I couldn’t get technical anyway, because I’m not a ballerina or a choreographer, despite my ballet workout confidence.

Everything starts with the story, and I was fortunate enough not only to read the book in different translations, but also to see two lovely animated adaptations that closely followed both E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella and the musical sequence of the ballet. If you’re curious, one was Russian from 1973 (45 years ago?!) and the other was Canadian from 1990 (that 90s nostalgia…) The Russian version was without words, with the ballet’s music being the narrator, while the 90s adaptation had dialogue.

Of course it was inevitable that at some point both book and ballet fused in my imagination, since the music captures everything about the story that draws you in: the joy of celebrating (not just Christmas), the magic and mystery of a winter night, the underlying fear of what lurks in the darkness, growing up, romance, dreams and reality – there’s a lot!

The ballet is a masterpiece of dancing, and I can tell you this as well: even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of my ballet workouts, I can now actually spot some of the movements we learned, compared to just watching and marveling, and therefore imagine JUST HOW DAMN SKILLED all those dancers are. General tip, if you’re watching or reading something where the characters are doing stuff that awakens your interest, maybe try out a course that teaches it or something related. You might gain valuable insight.

The enduring, exquisite choreography by Marius Petipa seamlessly matches the music of the ballet and I never tire of watching the group dances, especially the airy, joyful Waltz of the Flowers (also a wonderful springtime tune, thus making The Nutcracker music suitable not only for the winter season).

The ballet, in its stunning visual representation, also cleverly leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and that might be another reason for its timeless appeal, because we keep coming back to interpret anew. At the center of the story is the experience of a young girl, Marie, who blooms into a young woman, but how does that work with the timeline (one night)? Of course, logically only adult ballerinas can dance the role, which automatically influences our perspective. Is the godfather a magician? Whose side is he on? Did Marie become the Sugarplum Fairy?

I don’t need to know, because I love the continued delight, wonder and charm of the ballet, and it’s fascinating that music and a performance put together some 125 years ago are still very much alive…

 

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