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Canfield vs Balanchine Nutcracker

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James Canfield's Nutcracker, though obviously similar in parts is quite different from the Balanchine Nutcracker chosen by Christopher Stowell to be performed this year. A choreographer from the the Balanchine Trust is coming to set the piece on the company.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to this version? Will you miss the old Nut? What about "The Nut Has Finally Cracked" parody? Will you miss that, too?

Throw in your two cents, and I'll throw in mine!

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I'd be interested in a description of Canfield's Nutcracker, if anyone would like to post that here.

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I won't go into much detail as I'mm trying to entice other OBT fans onto this forum...

The basic concept of Canfield's Nutcracker is that Marie is an anspiring ballerina who is visited on Christmas Eve by famous Maryinki ballerina Kschessinskaya. Faberge substitutes for Drosselmeyer. In the dream sequence, Kschessinskaya dances the Sugar Plum Fairy. The main difference obviously, is that the role of Marie is danced by a principal dancer, providing opportunities for some some wonderful pas de deux with the Nutcracker Prince.

I invite someone else to fill in the rest of the description...

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One of the main reasons that I love Canfields version of The Nutcracker so much is because it's more than a fairly tale. It has a few historical characters (Fabrege, Kschessinskaya), it's historically accurate as far as I know, and it MAKES SENSE!

The things with that I dont understand about the Balanchine Nutcracker and others alike are just this:

  1. Where do the rats in Maria/Clara's dream come from? She just goes to bed on Christmas night and dreams of rats?
  2. What makes this Nutcracker Doll so great that it becomes her prince in her dream?
  3. Who is this Snow Queen and cavalier? Where do they fall into the picture?
  4. who is Dewdrop? Why is she dancing what is her purpose?
  5. Why, besides the fact that kids like candy, is Clara taken to the land of Candy?
  6. Who is this Sugar plum Fairly person? Who made her the ruler of Candyland?

I know that The Nutcracker is deemed a holiday favorite for families because it's great for kids. But, kids are not stupid, it can be exciting, intelligent, and make sense.

Here is where Canfields version corrects some of the problems and story gaps in some of the more well known productions.

  1. Marie gets scared by her unruley brother who brings a dead rat out on a platter for her as a present. Little does she know, it's a dead rat under that cover and Peter plans to chase her with it when it is revealed.
  2. Fabrege, Marie's godfather brings his nephew, Marius a cadete in the Russian army to the Christmas party to be introduced to Marie's older sister Alexis(?). When Marie sees Marius she is instantly taken by him, a crush ensues and he becomes the nutcracker prince in her dream.
  3. In the party scene, Marie's parents present to her, as her Christmas present, ballet lessons from Matilda Kshesinskaya. In Marie's eyes she is the most beautiful talented person. Hence, she becomes the Snow Queen, Lily of the Valley(dewprop), and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Marie's dream.
  4. Marie is taken on a magical trip throughout the seasons by the Nutcracker Prince (Marius), who then surprises Marie with a trip to the Mariinsky Theatre, where the stars of the Ballet dance a divertissement of styles from around the world.
  5. In the grand pas de deux at the end, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her mysterious, unexplained cavalier do not dance, rather Marie and the Nutcracker Prince dance in gratitude, cementing...that dreams can and do come true.

*breathes*

Sorry I get a little worked up :)

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Thank you for such a long and thoughtful post! I haven't seen the Canfield, so I can't comment on that, but I can give you one woman's answer to your questions:

1. Where do the rats in Maria/Clara's dream come from? She just goes to bed on Christmas night and dreams of rats?

Yes. Rats and mice were a part of every 19th century household. So this doesn't necesarily have a deep psychological significance. If you were a 10 year old girl and a mouse ran over your foot on a regular basis, you might dream of them too! (There are stories about the theaters of that day that people in the stalls -- orchestra to us -- took umbrellas to performances to beat off the rats.)

2. What makes this Nutcracker Doll so great that it becomes her prince in her dream?

He's an enchanted prince, and she knows this because she's breen brought up on fairytales.

3. Who is this Snow Queen and cavalier? Where do they fall into the picture?

who is Dewdrop? Why is she dancing what is her purpose?

They don't have a dramatic purpose. They're divertissements. This ballet comes from the ballet feerie tradition, and the divertissements are thematically related to the story, but not dramatically so.

4. Why, besides the fact that kids like candy, is Clara taken to the land of Candy?

Same reason -- a divertissement. Although if you'd like to read more background on this, Mel Johnson has done an excellent historical summary of Nutcracker that's on our main site here

5.Who is this Sugar plum Fairy person? Who made her the ruler of Candyland?

Not to be taken literally. It's thematic, not dramatic. If you're doing a ballet with a divertissement set in a Kingdom of the Sweets, you need a ballerina.

I think Petipa/Ivanov were operating under different assumptions and from within a different tradition. These are all good questions if you're coming to Nutcracker wanting a narrative ballet that makes contemporary dramatic sense. But it was made as a ballet that appealed to the senses, that didnt tell a story in a literal way, but left a lot of scope for imagination. Someone might read all kinds of things -- relationships among the characters, what does Tea really symbolize, etc. And others might view it as a poem. Why does Robert Frost write of Snow, and stopping by the woods? Is it really about winter? Or about his inner life, his time of life, using the beauty of nature and imagery to make his point. If one thinks of Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty as poems, one asks different questions.

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Thanks for adding to the synopsis of the Canfield Nutcracker, Jameth. By the way I should add that OBT's historian Carol Shults worked closely with Mr. Canfield in fashioning the story and character changes and deserves much credit for the way it hangs together in the "sensible" way you point out. However, this does not mean it lacks the essential poetry and divertissement of the original version. If anything, I find the poetic meaning deepened by the young Maria's wish to be a ballerina told on stage...by ballerinas!

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I happen to absolutely love Balanchine's Nutcracker - however, Canfield's sounds really good too, and I would love to see it performed sometime with a really good cast. Has any other ballet company ever performed Canfield's?

And by the way Jameth - many thanks for your great "play by play" (in honor of the Yankees vs Boston game tonight!).

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Ah Carol Shults. I have heard that name in a long time. When I was in the School of OBT I took ballet history from her...

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P.S. I am not down playing other versions. I am just expression the reasons why I have always been more drawn towards Canfields version...it could also be because I know him personally and I highly respect him *shrug*

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What Alexandra said :)

The Snow Queen can make sense as well - the music is called (at least on some scores) "Journey through the Snow"; it's the place that Clara and the Prince pass through to get to the kingdom of the sweets. In versions I've seen that I've liked (and adopted myself when I choreographed a Snow Scene many years ago) the beginning of the music is used to have the Snow Queen greet Clara and wish her safe passage through her kingdom. Clara continues on her way and the Queen and her cavalier dance.

To expand a bit on what Alexandra said, there are other logics besides narrative logic out there. Much of what Balanchine, Petipa or any of the other classical choreographers did makes sense as a classical distillation; the form is the content. Just as one trains oneself and is educated to look for narrative soundness, you can also tune yourself in to the logic of the form as well. (One place to experiment - Balanchine's Midsummer Night's dream, where Act II is the classical abstraction of Act I)

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Actually, the Snow Queen bit is not in the original, but is retained as a sort of tribute to Anna Pavlova, who used the music as a pas de deux in her touring company and in American Vaudeville. The Ballet Russe decided to keep it because many of the theaters they played were not capable of doing the massive transformation scene change.

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Are not the divertissements named in the score by Tchaikovsky? I will have to get the score out today to check but I believe I have seen the name of each divertissement written (in Russian) on the top of each page. I just assumed (not a good idea) that it said, Waltz of the Flowers, Chocolate, Coffee, etc.. I know the pas de trois (Mirliton/Marzipan) says pas de trois so how that has evolved is not known to me. Anyone?

I have no opinion regarding the various versions of Nutcracker. My interest is basically historical in nature. Major Johnson has written a very informative and interesting piece on Nutcracker. Thank you kindly! :grinning:

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Goodies coming right up! That's actually one of the themes of Nutcracker: Conspicuous Consumption. No, not that kind of consumption, that's "Marguerite and Armand"! :) And yes, the various entrées of the divertissements are usually named as to product. The Marzipan Shepherdesses in the original production had a lot of taqueterie and beats to do, and even what seem to be the single-on-pointe, doubles-on-half pirouettes that suggest that the shepherdesses who are playing on their kazoos(!) (mirlitons) are Danish, where Marzipan is the favorite sweet and is sculpted into all sorts of fanciful shapes by master confectioners called sucriers. :(

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BTW, I have a program from the Canfield version here, and the Trepak and a couple other numbers in the score are listed as having been choreographed by then-OBT ballet master Mark Goldweber.

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Mel, thanks for that intriguing bit re Snow has having been a Pas for Pavlova that was retained. Was it composed as a piece for a snow queen? The way the flutes describe the initial snowflakes fallling, one can't imagine it as anything but.

Also, what year is your program? Sounds like it might predate this version we're talking about. I believe it premiered in '94. I think there was another version dating from '90.

As far as I know, BW, no other company has ever performed this version. It has only been pitched to the hometown fans in the local ballpark. (As someone who took a Little League batting clinic from Ted Williams, I too am honoring the Yankees & Red Sox. Pedro & Roger on Sat...I'm in heaven!)

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I know for a fact that Mark Goldweber coreographed "chinese" but I am not sure what else...I want to say he originally coreographed the russian dance, but I am not sure. James would re-coreograph and change things each year and I know he changed the russian variation a couple times...the Sugar Plum Fairly's variation also changed as I remember every year.

Oh and the version that Mark had some coreographic credit in, is in fact the version we are speaking of :)

Edited by Jameth

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The Snow Queen and King was set to the music that immediately follows the last spasms of the Mouse King and starts with a rising figure into a descending major scale. (I don't have my score here. Can't tell you the key.) The scene is used in the Balanchine production as a mime sequence and scene change. Pavlova used it as a pas de deux for herself and a partner (Laurent Novikov? Anatole Obukhov? Anatole Vilzak? All of the above? None of the above?) The pas de deux ended at the harp as it trails off to segue into the Waltz of the Snowflakes.

I think this program comes from 1996, as the High Concept Nutcracker (with Russified libretto) was pretty fresh, and Goldweber hadn't gone back to the Joffrey yet. At least it's with a whole bunch of 1996 OBT materials.

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I've got to thank Jameth for detailing Canfield's libretto -- I'd never had any idea what it was, and I have to agree, it IS charming.......... lesons with Kchessinska ("today we're going for SPEED," which was what -- was it Fonteyn? said she said EVERY day)... that is a pretty intoxicating idea.

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