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Taking the "Nutcracker" Seriously or Not


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#16 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 06:11 AM

It wouldn't have been the first time an author went all self-referential!

Unfortunately, I don't know whether that story had made it to Russia, or even to Dumas, for that matter. Vsevolozhsky only credited "The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice" and "The Sandman" Obviously, these have backstories like "The Hard Nut", and some others.

#17 innopac

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 12:32 PM

Unfortunately, I don't know whether that story had made it to Russia, or even to Dumas, for that matter. Vsevolozhsky only credited "The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice" and "The Sandman" Obviously, these have backstories like "The Hard Nut", and some others.


Thanks for that -- I hadn't thought about the availability of all the stories - although they were written around the same period they might not have been published freely.

I have read that Hoffmann had a fascination with but also a horror of automata. In the passage from "Automata" about the nutcracker though he expresses the wonder of a childhood memory. I see the potential for a travesty of humankind versus the magic of childhood (however dark) as underlining the difference between Coppelia and Nutcracker, between the characterisations of Dr. Coppelius and Drosselmeyer. What do you think?

#18 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 01:00 PM

I'd certainly have to agree with that. And certainly there is a difference in how the two shows come down to us. The earliest Nutz comes to us in two basic forms, the Sergeyev notations, and IMO, the Balanchine version, which is the "production of record" for many modern audiences, and contains bits and pieces of retained mime at least from the Imperial days. Coppélia is St.-Léon's choreography, but came to us through a Petipa restaging in Russia. The Ballet Russe and Dame Adeline Genée were major players in keeping this ballet alive. Of course, there is the Royal Danish production, too.

The RB version has, over the years, softened the old gizmo-maker into someone who may be a little off, but whose problems may mostly be seated in his being lonely! In Ballet Russe productions, he used to take the nobleman's money and run off with it -- purely mercenary. The RB had him sit down onstage, fussing and silently fuming, until one of the children finds him while the divertissement is going on. "What's the matter? Why do you cry?" He mimes back, "My baby is dead!" The children gather around him, giving him sympathy, and alerting their parents, who come to condole with the old man. As the divertissement proceeds, they slowly, slowly, often during the applause, sweep around upstage gradually reaching the toymaker's shop, then he invites them in! While the coda is going on, the burgomaster and the nobleman hoist glasses to one another and offer one to the toymaker, who appears from an upper window, surrounded by loving children and happy parents. He bends a hook out of a piece of wire, and up comes his glass too. The three mimes then toast the audience as the final tableau occurs.

#19 innopac

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 01:34 PM

I'd certainly have to agree with that. And certainly there is a difference in how the two shows come down to us. The earliest Nutz comes to us in two basic forms, the Sergeyev notations, and IMO, the Balanchine version, which is the "production of record" for many modern audiences, and contains bits and pieces of retained mime at least from the Imperial days. Coppélia is St.-Léon's choreography, but came to us through a Petipa restaging in Russia. The Ballet Russe and Dame Adeline Genée were major players in keeping this ballet alive. Of course, there is the Royal Danish production, too.

The RB version has, over the years, softened the old gizmo-maker into someone who may be a little off, but whose problems may mostly be seated in his being lonely! In Ballet Russe productions, he used to take the nobleman's money and run off with it -- purely mercenary. The RB had him sit down onstage, fussing and silently fuming, until one of the children finds him while the divertissement is going on. "What's the matter? Why do you cry?" He mimes back, "My baby is dead!" The children gather around him, giving him sympathy, and alerting their parents, who come to condole with the old man. As the divertissement proceeds, they slowly, slowly, often during the applause, sweep around upstage gradually reaching the toymaker's shop, then he invites them in! While the coda is going on, the burgomaster and the nobleman hoist glasses to one another and offer one to the toymaker, who appears from an upper window, surrounded by loving children and happy parents. He bends a hook out of a piece of wire, and up comes his glass too. The three mimes then toast the audience as the final tableau occurs.


What production would have the most sinister Dr Coppelius you have seen?

#20 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 December 2007 - 03:37 PM

I'd have to say the old Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production with Yurek Lasowsky as Dr. Coppélius. He made the character seem quite dangerous. Roland Petit's was dangerous, too, in another way. He made him a lounge lizard.

#21 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 01:20 AM

... a "curiously benign" dramatic representation of the fearful will be most welcome to me.

I've always been a strong advocate for a more serious non-seasonal adult oriented staging of the ballet. The following is a fragment of an interesting article of Kathleen Wessels for the Journal Constitution about the Atlanta Ballet Production.

[font="Comic Sans MS"][size=2]"When did "The Nutcracker," and many other ballets for that matter, become so childish? Why must panda suits and pigs en pointe dance onstage with trained artists? Maybe ballet in Atlanta is best supported by families with young children, and companies are adjusting their programming accordingly. But "The Nutcracker" is a timeless, albeit fantastical, story with scary characters (the Rat King is no Barney). Ballet patrons, just like patrons of other art forms, should be challenged with a mature reading of a historical classic. The Atlanta Ballet's highly trained professionals deserve no less."[/size][/font]

http://www.ajc.com/h...acker_1205.html

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 08:03 AM

You've just hit on an original criticism of the ballet. Petersburg writers denounced the show as "some sort of fragile and sugary Nutcracker". It followed a very serious and even grim Tchaikovsky opera, Iolanta, at its premiere, and the audiences wanted continuity in their mood, not relief.

Balanchine's version did about as much to address the original criticisms as could be done, and not spoil the essential core of the ballet. That's the problem with attempts to make the ballet "more Hoffmanesque", or "more relevant". They ignore the harmony of music, story, choreography and decor which makes for a well-integrated ballet. And this ballet is not popular merely because of a seasonal theme. It's really well-balanced, and the most durable productions work within what the show has, and don't superimpose a weight that spun sugar can't support.

#23 dirac

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Posted 17 December 2007 - 03:24 PM

And this ballet is not popular merely because of a seasonal theme. It's really well-balanced, and the most durable productions work within what the show has, and don't superimpose a weight that spun sugar can't support.


Well said. And they attend to what Tchaikovsky put in the score.

Thank you, innopac, for reviving this interesting thread, and to Mel for moving the discussion forward so well. :)

#24 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 09:07 PM

And this ballet is not popular merely because of a seasonal theme. It's really well-balanced, and the most durable productions work within what the show has, and don't superimpose a weight that spun sugar can't support.

I absolutely agree with your statement, Mel. Being familiar with basically two productions of the ballet, the Fokine/Alonso one for the NBC and later on Balanchine's for MCB, i was trying to address the fact of how totally different the feelings of this two productions are when one sees them live . Being more used to to the first one, IMO that even substituting the children for children look-alike very young professional dancers for the first Act, the toys choreography created as a reminiscence and homage to Fokine's "Petrushka" on the same Act, the old fashioned/ethereal designed Snow Queen and King PDD on the Snow Scene, the massive, impressive and synchronized entrance of the adult female Corps as the angels on the Act II, the Cossack's inspired Trepak as the Russian Dance and finally, the preservation of the entire Sugar Plum Fairy PDD as a whole in choreography, style, meaning and spirit and its respectful take as a center of design and conception of the ballet as one of the most important exponents of the Petipa/Ivanov surviving masterpieces, are facts that really make an impact once we see other takes on the work...As usual, this is just my amateurish point of view, and again, Thank you, Mel, for your always expert considerations. Keep'em coming! :thumbsup:

#25 canbelto

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 08:49 AM

cubanmiamiboy, while I agree that Balanchine's rearrangement of the Grand pas de deux music is one of the weaknesses of the ballet, one shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, because Balanchine's Nutcracker has so many strengths as well. Year after year, it continues to enchant audiences with its humor and charm. The choreography is consistently strong, ESPECIALLY the grand pas de deux, with its tricky shoulder leap-to-lifts, and the final lunging fishdive. I've seen the allegro choreography of the Dewdrop trip up many a dancer. The mice scene is flat-out funny, with the mice lined up like cheerleaders on a bleacher. Most importantly, Balanchine preserves the idea that the Nutcracker is a child's fantasy, and it really has CHRISTMAS spirit -- it's giving, cheerful, family-friendly, maybe a little corny. But every time I've seen it I walk out of the theater happy.

Now is it perfect? Far from it. I wish that Marie didn't lie so long on that damned bed. As you said, the musical rearrangement of the grand pas de deux is jarring for those of us who know the Nutcracker score. I don't really like the sliding thingie that the SPF has to ride either. But, having seen many many versions of the Nutcracker, I still think it's the best.

#26 Mel Johnson

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 10:46 AM

With the addition of the reika (the sliding thingie), we lose the irritating line of diagonal bourrées, which never, to me, seemed to fit the very big statement of the main theme in the music. Balanchine addressed the old criticism of the ballerina's first dancing coming "far too late" in the original production, and the wheezy tarantella music for the male variation, which had originally been written for a divertissement in the first act party scene which didn't make it to stage. Structure is very important, but it's not sacrosanct. I think that the choice of artists may have influenced Petipa as choreographic planner and Ivanov as actual choreographer not to make Antonietta Dell'Era, the original Sugar Plum Fairy do too much technically, as she may have tired easily. She had been among the first Italians to come to Russia, but in years leading up to Nutcracker, had been doing mostly opera ballets and musical comedies.

Something similar may have gone on with the interpolation of the Entr'acte from Sleeping Beauty after the party scene and leading into the "magic" scene. That lovely violin solo was written especially for Leopold Auer, the concertmaster of the Maryinsky orchestra, but had been cut from that show, along with the Panorama scene, when the machinery for the latter wouldn't work. The addition of the "bridge" adds just enough logic to the story and also provides time to ready the stage transition and assemble the thundering hordes of mice and toys for the battle. Remember, this version was created on a much smaller NYCB than exists today, and some of the "parents" had to double as mice!

#27 rg

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:27 PM

re: NUTCRACKER and the petipa legacy - it's prob. important to note that to any number of ballet followers, etc. the pas de deux from the ballet russe lineage has long been considered IVANOV's work, esp. by those who found extant staging(s) of this pas to be superior to balanchine's own version.
i wish the royal ballet's 'after ivanov' version of the ballet under peter wright's direction hadn't dropped the 'reika' moment w/the cloak (sir walter raleigh-like) so early on. luckily we have it on the performance from '85.

#28 EAW

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 02:29 PM

Excellent points, Mel. The structure and order of certain scores are "sacrosanct," but Balanchine has proven that "Nutcracker" isn't one of them. His insertion of the violin Entr'acte from "Sleeping Beauty" and rearrangement of the grand pas de deux are neither musically nor dramatically jarring - just the opposite. And forgive me if somebody already said this in an earlier post (I haven't read them all) but Arlene Croce once put it best - "The Nutcracker is a child's Christmas or it is nothing." Those who wish it were something else or want to make it something else should pick another score to exercise their imaginations.

#29 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 07:43 AM

Excellent points, Mel. The structure and order of certain scores are "sacrosanct," but Balanchine has proven that "Nutcracker" isn't one of them.


Yes, Mel, i agree that the point was made with a well developed purposed, and yes, it proved to be succesful once we see all those packed houses of families enjoying his version every year. In a personal way the story is defferent, because i got to knew the score of the "Nutcracker" as a kid way before watching the ballet. My grandfather had an old LP from the 50's at home in which i heard that music over and over in the turntable until the record went bad :lol: Yes, maybe Balanchine didn't take a 'sacrosant" approach to the ballet score. I certainly did.

Arlene Croce once put it best - "The Nutcracker is a child's Christmas or it is nothing."

Arguable. I grew up in a communist Cuba without Christmas official aknowledgment, in a kind of atheist state of mind, and the "Nutcracker" was certainly "something", (sorry, Miss Croce, for not fitting into her description of its supposed valid followers). It was, for me, the ultimate beautiful tale of fantasy and enchantment.

"Those who wish it were something else or want to make it something else should pick another score to exercise their imaginations.

I'll pick back on "Swan Lake" once Christmas is over, EAW :clapping:
:thumbsup:

#30 dirac

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Posted 28 December 2007 - 05:12 PM

If I recall the context of the quote correctly, Croce was referring in general to Nutcrackers that make the story into a coming-of-age piece rather than staying with a basic child’s-eye perspective.

It's nice that this venerable thread has so much life in it. Hope to read more!


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