Monday, November 30, 2009

Tis the Season for The Nutcracker

Every year I field several Nutcracker queries, not as many now that Wikipedia offers some reasonably accurate articles (see The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Nutcracker). However, most information focuses on the ballet.

My parents tossed the figurative coin over who would escort me to see the ballet when I was old enough to beg and/or ask for it as part of my Christmas presents each year. The first tape of music I ever wore out personally was of Tchaikovsky's music. So, I am quite familiar with the ballet myself although I never knew much about the story behind it. So I was one of the ballet and Nutcracker obsessed as a child. My interest waned over the years as other things grew in personal importance, but I am still fascinated with the story and its history, since that is one of the things I do.

A few years ago, the prolific Jack Zipes offered a short book with new translations of the two original Nutcracker stories that inspired the ballet as well as an introductory essay. The first is The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffman and the second is Alexandre Dumas's adaptation of Hoffman's story.

Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker edited by Jack Zipes

The original stories behind everyone’s favorite Christmas ballet.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that seeing The Nutcracker at Christmastime became an American tradition. But the story itself is much older and its original intent more complex. This eye-opening new volume presents two of the tale’s earliest versions, both in new translations: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Nutcracker and Mouse King (1816), in which a young girl is whisked away to the Land of Toys to help her animated nutcracker defeat the Mouse King, and Alexandre Dumas’s 1845 adaptation, The Tale of the Nutcracker, based on Hoffmann’s popular work. Irresistible tales of magic, mystery, and childhood adventure, these timeless delights and fresh interpretations about the importance of imagination will captivate readers of all ages.

If you are also interested in the history of the ballet and the story of how it has become so popular, I also recommend the following:

Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World by Jennifer Fisher

Here's a review from Publishers Weekly:

Dance scholar, critic and former snowflake Fisher presents a lively historical and cultural analysis of The Nutcracker. The beloved ballet bonbon has been performed by the world's most prestigious dance companies, shown on television, adopted and adapted across North America, leaving one dance critic to grumble that, every year, we are all "one more Nutcracker closer to death." Still, Fisher's thoughtful account puts the phenomenon in perspective. Created in 1892 to Tchaikovsky's lush score, The Nutcracker was introduced to North America in the early 20th century by Russian touring companies and legitimized in the 1950s by George Balanchine, who had danced Lev Ivanoff's original steps at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater. Balanchine choreographed his own distinctly Americanized version, adding it to the New York City Ballet's annual holiday repertoire. Televised in the late 1950s, NYCB's Nutcracker was seen across the continent, and as baby boomers were sent off to ballet classes, The Nutcracker became the perfect vehicle to showcase their talents. With its secular holiday appeal, it also became a moneymaker for struggling regional dance companies, who lent their versions of the ballet a unique flavor-hulas in Hawaii, cowboys in Arizona, cross-dressing in Mark Morris's The Hard Nut. Fisher deconstructs many of these versions, analyzing how the ballet has become both an annual ritual and a rite of passage. The Nutcracker may be, as Fisher writes, "the ballet we love to hate," a "cliche‚ in a world that craves constant innovation," but she also explains why it has become a meaningful ritual that Americans have "taken to heart." 40 illus.

I plan to make this week a Nutcracker week, sharing more books and music connected to the story and ballet in addition to my regular posts. This tale has certainly become part of our folklore and traditions and deserves a little time.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy The Nutcracker and did not realize that it was so popular to dislike! Thanks for these book recommendations; they sound very intriguing. Finding out how something became a common tradition is often makes for its own interesting fairytale. :-)