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"The Nutcracker" in Russia - Problems with Soviet Censors?Ballet History


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#1 FauxPas

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 11:31 AM

I was watching the DVD of the Kirov 1994 staging of "The Nutcracker" in Vassily Vainonen's bland choreography with Lezhnina and Baronov and a thought crossed my mind. "The Nutcracker" is all about a Christian religious holiday, Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ. Now of course this really is very much a mid-Winter Saturnalia holiday about family, gift-giving and surviving the winter as much as it is about Christ - the placement of his birth at this time of year has no solid historical documentation. However, the communists banished all religious worship and Christian symbols. Considering the fact that up to a certain time Giselle couldn't have a cross on her grave, did "The Nutcracker" ever get into trouble with Communist censors? Was it felt to celebrate capitalist, spiritualist traditions from before the revolution? All Russian productions I have seen set it in the very early 19th century.

Just wondrin' if any Russians on this board could input some memories. Anyone who might have a history of the dates when it was done at the Kirov and Bolshoi during the 1917-1960 period would help. The Vainonen version seems to date from 1934 per some googling.

#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 02:18 PM

Just wondrin' if any Russians on this board could input some memories. Anyone who might have a history of the dates when it was done at the Kirov and Bolshoi during the 1917-1960 period would help. The Vainonen version seems to date from 1934 per some googling.

FauxPas, i think that i can give you some answers, due to my own experience with the whole situation growing back in communist Cuba during the cold war. This is the thing. Mme. Alonso's choreographic experience is totally under the influence of her career with ABT and the "Ballet Russes" back on the early 40's. On the other side, she's a loyal friend of Fidel Castro, and hence, under the atheist oriented vision of the cuban revolution, copied after the soviet one. The complete "Nutcracker" didn't make to the cuban stages until 2000, way after communism had fallen off and christmas trees and the like were allowed back in the cuban festivities. That happened after the Pope went to Cuba, and Castro gave back Christmas's eve day off. (It had been banned after he took power in 1959). But between 1959 and 2000, all we had were the Sugar Plum Fairy PDD, the Snow PDD and the Trepak in a sort of stuffed "Aurora's Wedding", made after the "Ballet Russes" version. Also, we had been told that in the Soviet Union, the ballet had been morphed from Clara's Christmas Party to Masha's Birthday Party. Still, i remember when i was a kid, a local ballet group did the ballet, and its director, with the kid's family funds, did the First Act with the Christmas Tree and everything. I was a kid, and i was shocked, amazed and speechless...we all knew that "THAT" was a "symbol of the past that had been erased...and blah,blah,blah..." He ended up being banned from the ballet school and came to US in a boat afterwards. In 2000, the big "Nutcracker" comeback made its premiere in Havana. Everybody was talking about it, due to the extensive research that Mme. Alonso had done with Mme. Fedorova and the Fokine Family to restage their version. And that's what we have now. In the Act I there's the Christmas tree, but still, in the beggining of Act II she had the massive supersincronized entrance of the female corps in its original choreography...dressed like dolls. I never knew that they were supposed to be angels until i saw the Balanchine version when i came to US, so i guess that there's still a little hint of anti-religious feeling in the cuban staging...
:)

#3 popularlibrary

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 04:08 PM

All of this is kind of fascinating since Christmas trees are about as pagan as you can get - Balanchine's 'angels' carry little fir trees, not little cribs or stars or baby Jesuses. One of the most salient features of Nutcracker in Balanchine's, and very likely the original Russian version he once danced in, is its absolute lack of Christian symbolism. Of course, you could call the trees a religious symbol, but they belong to another religion entirely, a pre-Christian one at that. I wonder if it doesn't take an atheist to mistake Nutcracker for something Christian rather than a tale the average evangelical would regard with about as much favor as the Harry Potter novels.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 04:22 PM

One of the main themes of the ballet as originally conceived was the availability of goods from the world's markets flooding into Russia. Consumer capitalism at its practical zenith. I've felt that Soviet versions which were successful had a friend near Stalin's ear, in the case of Vainonen, and later Khrushchev and Brezhnev. The pretext was "all the world united under Soviet Socialism". So consumer-based, but from a different path.

#5 kfw

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 05:50 PM

What an interesting historical question, FauxPas. But while the Nutcracker may be set at Christmastime, and though Christmas trees were originally a Christian gloss on paganism (rebirth being common to both outlooks), the Nutcracker is not actually a religious tale. Also, while the Church moved the date of the celebration to co-opt pagan celebrations, Christians have never celebrated Christ's birthday, but rather his birth.

popularlibrary, evangelicals come in stripes conservative to progressive, and opinions of Harry Potter vary accordingly.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 10:19 PM

The Soviets co-opted Christmas and made it into a (Solar) New Year's Festival. They even took Santa Claus (one of the patron saints of Russia is St. Nicholas) and renamed him Grandfather Frost. Ah, Marxist-Leninist Realism! :)

#7 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 10:50 PM

They even took Santa Claus (one of the patron saints of Russia is St. Nicholas) and renamed him Grandfather Frost. Ah, Marxist-Leninist Realism! :)

Mmm...didn't Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Russian: Снегурочка or Snow Maiden) existed already during the XIX Century along with Grandfather Nicholas, Santa Claus, Ded Treskun, Morozko and simply Moroz?

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 06:27 AM

And a good long time before that! What Soviet sociocultural authorities did was to take all the traditional folkloric figures, put them in a bowl and stirred well. What came out was a composite that they called by a traditional Russian name. Grandfather Frost had been a rather gaunt figure. Post-Revolution he became rounder and was always dressed in red. (N.B. "Krasnoye" in Russian means both "beautiful" and "red") Totalitarian regimes often do this kind of bait-and-switch, co-opting popular figures and objects which are insufficiently (insert nationality here) and give them a makeover, until they become sufficiently (insert nationality here). Some places take objects like the "telefon" and ban that word, no Greek roots allowed, until they cobble up their own politically correct name for it.

#9 carbro

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 10:04 AM

:)

(N.B. "Krasnoye" in Russian means both "beautiful" and "red")

Fascinating!

:D Therefore the reference to Communists as "Reds"? If so, then during the Cold War Westerners failed to realize that by referring to Communist regimes as "red," they were paying them a compliment!

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 05:00 PM

A red flag was for centuries the standard standard for a contrarian force. After the 1789 Revolution in France, the Jacobins used it. After the 1848 Revolution, it was pretty much established as the flag for Socialists and Communards. With the coming of the First International of the International Workingman's Association (1864-1876), the Socialists formally recognized the red flag as their flag, and the Communists joined them. The signal for a rallying point for Revolution was the raising of a red flag. Today, in International Mercantile Signal Flags, no all-red flag except the burgee (swallow-tailed flag) for the letter "B" is recognized. If a vessel raises the "B" flag, it means, "approach with caution, I am loading or discharging dangerous cargo (usually explosives)." When the Russian Revolution happened, the Communists used their red flag as a banner for their forces, and the Tsarist supporters used the white field of the old Russian flag as theirs. Thus, the "Reds" and the "Whites". And Red Square was Red Square long before the Reds!

#11 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 07:58 PM

I rather like Vainonen's Nutcracker. THe Kirov Academy brought it here on tour about 10 years ago, and it filled the stage in a generous way. I particularly liked the quadrilles for hte older girls. It's gracious and large-minded.

THough there is a passage of vulgar comedy in the party scene which makes fun of an elderly character, who stumbles around -- which to me seemed out of place. It occurred to me that it was in there to give Stalin a laugh. I have no idea if that's true, but it did occur to me that it might have served as a sop to the censors -- like throwing something to Cerberus to distract him so you get by.

#12 FauxPas

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 09:20 AM

The interesting thing about the Soviets changing Clara's Christmas party into Masha's Birthday party is the "coming of age" and "becoming a woman/leaving childhood behind" subtext of many Nutcracker versions. This is usually a prominent theme in stagings where an adult ballerina dances Clara/Masha. Usually we get the idea that she puts aside little wooden dolls of men and moves on to taller, more mobile, muscular and anatomically complete real men by the end of the ballet! Clearly toys no longer do it for little Clara/Masha by the final curtain! :dunno: She is ready for romance with the Nutcracker Prince whether her episode in Candyland was just a dream or reality via magical intervention. So if it is perhaps her fifteenth or sixteenth birthday then she is moving into womanhood.

Another thing that bothers me about certain stagings is where Masha is left in Candyland at the end without waking up at home. I mean what about her parents and Drosselmeyer? Even bratty little Fritz will be traumatized the day after Christmas to discover his sister has disappeared without a trace. What about her diet in Candyland? I don't see her getting the necessary four food groups there. That sylph-like ballerina figure will be quickly lost unless she gets home.


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