Every holiday season since Peter Tchaikovsky composed the music in 1892 together with Hoffmann’s story and Petipa’s choreography, the Nutcracker is enjoyed by young and old alike. Hundreds of dance companies throughout the world perform the annual tradition with creative interpretation of the musical compositions, choreography with both children and professional dancers, elaborate costumes and decorative theatrical sets.
Although the stage performance differs from the original story, the basic plot remains the same: a young German girl dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a ferocious battle with the Mouse King. The two act ballet begins with the Stahibaum family welcoming relatives and friends to an elaborate Christmas Eve party. The children, Fritz and Clara, are playing and dancing about, in anticipation of their godfather Drosselmeyer’s arrival with his amazing gifts. When he gives Clara a magnificent nutcracker, Fritz becomes jealous, grabs the nutcracker and promptly breaks it. By waving a white handkerchief, Drosselmeyer magically repairs the nutcracker.
As the clock approaches midnight, the holiday guests depart and the family retires for the evening, except for Clara who sneaks back to the nutcracker standing by the Christmas tree. As she grows tired of playing with him, she falls asleep. At the stroke of midnight strange things happen; the Christmas tree begins to grow to the ceiling, the nutcracker and gingerbread soldiers come to life, and mice fill the room. Clara, in the midst of a battle between the mice led by the Mouse King and gingerbread soldiers, watches as the mice eat the gingerbread soldiers, followed with the arrival of the tin cavalry toys and wooden dolls coming to rescue the wounded soldiers. As the Mouse King attacks the nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at Mouse King distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him. As the mice retreat into the pine forest, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome Prince leading Clara into his kingdom as dazzling snowflakes dance around them.
During the second act, Clara and the Prince travel to the Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy until the Prince returns to his kingdom. Sharing the story of his travels, he tells about how he was saved from the Mouse King by Clara, and then transformed back into himself. With this wondrous news, a celebration commences with sweets treats from around the world: Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Russian candy canes and Chinese tea, all dancing around the honored couple. The Danish shepherds play their flutes followed by Mother Ginger with her children emerging from under her enormous dress. After the waltzing flowers perform, the Sugar Plum Fairy with her Cavalier dance beautifully followed by the entire cast of sweets dancing a waltz as they celebrate the marriage of Clara and the Prince.
Since the Nutcracker is performed by hundreds of ballet companies throughout the world, this annual tradition is not only the most popular ballet, but generates revenue of up to 40% of the total proceeds needed to fund ballet companies. One of my favorite ballet companies is the Atlanta Ballet, performing the delightful Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre, currently under the artistic direction of John McFall.
Making her Atlanta Ballet debut, Coco Mathieson, a 21-year-old New Zealander as the Snow Queen, says “When the Nutcracker is done right with music, costumes and set pieces, it can create magic onstage. I hope I can make people feel that way.” The dance company starts the 2014/2015 season with the Nutcracker followed by Romeo et Julliette, Camino Real, Modern Choreographic Voices and MAYhem. For upcoming performances and ticket information, contact the Atlanta Ballet at: www.atlantaballet.com
The Nutcracker Ballet: Photography by Jim Fiscus and Charlie McCullers