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More thoughts on the "Nuts"


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#1 BW

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 07:19 AM

In the links section today there is an article from The Village Voice by Tobi Tobias: http://www.villagevo...0/footnotes.php

I really think she sets her stage well as she writes

Every work of art is rooted in the time, place and social climate of its making. The most powerful and durable creations transcend these specifics.


The article continues:

In the 1816 story that spawned dozens of Nutcracker ballets, E.T.A. Hoffmann evokes a psychological milieu that has proved well-nigh universal. The Christmastide celebrations in which he sets his vivid account of a girl child's sexual awakening are merely a convenience, offering an atmosphere loaded with hectic excitements and the assembly of family and friends who are naturally the main characters in anyone's personal psychodrama...


She continues on comparing several versions... but what struck me, was that I'd never, ever, considered "The Nutcracker" to be a story about "a girl child's sexual awakening" at all. :eek: Am I alone in this - in being so naive? Or is it possible that since I've only really seen the Balanchine or "Balanchinish" versions that I missed this? Of course, now that it's been pointed out, I can certainly see how one might draw these conclusions... I'm sorry but I'm too ignorant and lazy to look up Sigmund Freud's time line to see if his concept of "the dream" might have had any impact on any of the earlier Nutcracker versions...

Care to comment or fill me in on this holiday fare?

#2 Juliet

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 08:01 AM

I'm too up to my ears in mousecheesesugarplumsanddrosselmeyercapes to go into historical minutiae, but yes, this is a common take on Nutcracker, based on the Hoffman story. The story is readily (and beautifully) available....look for it in a wonderfully illustrated edition by Maurice Sendak. For older children I think this is the best; for younger ones I think the subtext is better subsumed into the more general tale--Balanchine's is one very beautiful version.

#3 scoop

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 09:42 AM

Baryshnikov's Nutcracker for ABT, which turns up on PBS occasionally, is the one I've seen that most clearly interprets the story as a sexual awakening. For one thing, Clara/Marie is danced by an adult rather than a girl -- and, in the TV broadcast, by the ultimate woman-child, Gelsey Kirkland. Her dances with the Prince, Baryshnikov, are very romantic and "grown-up" compared to other versions where it's more like Clara is off on a little girl's adventure to Candyland. If I'm remembering right, Kirkland even takes over the grand pas de deux that Sugarplum usually dances. There's also a bit of psychodrama with Drosselmeyer weaving in and out of one of Kirkland and Baryshnikov's dances in which he seems to be transferring his niece from childhood into adult life.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 10:28 AM

For lots of background information on the Nutcracker, you might be interested in checking out Mel Johnson's Nutcracker pages on the main site:

http://www.balletale...y/Nuts/Nuts.htm

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 10:48 AM

To me (though this is not really an original thought) what you're asking is the difference between the Nutcracker as conceived by ETA Hoffmann and then as re-conceived by Petipa and Tchaikovsky. There's a distance between the two, and there aren't the same undertones. Honestly, I'm not that fond of productions that try and re-integrate the Hoffmann into that conception. I think they're fighting the music.

There's an essay in my dance writing page that's germane here, I think. Revisiting the Nutcracker.

#6 BW

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 06:18 PM

Wow! A seriously big thank you!! to you all. I really appreciate your information and responses.

Juliet, thanks for the heads up on Sendak's book - isn't that the version that Pacific Northwest Ballet performs?

Scoop, I will have to check out ABT's video with Kirkland and Baryshnikov. I am embarassed to say that I've never seen it.

Alexandra, thank you for pointing me directly to Mel's labor of love - Mel, you are truly a font (and one with humor, as well)! There is so much there to read that I'll have to go back to it at another sitting for sure.

And Leigh, thank you for sending me back to what I already know and love...and so beautifully written.

I would never have guessed that there was so much to know about the Nutcracker... how foolish of me!

Now what I really need to do is watch several versions to get a visual taste of their differences. :)

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 07:13 PM

And there's more to tell than what's there, now. I just have to get Giselle on the list, and then I can start to go back and update the 3 Ts (Tchaikovskys) with information on subsequent productions, some relatively close to the first!

#8 rg

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 08:08 AM

please excuse any redundancy here, but if the point hasn't been made, it bears noting that the petipa/ivanov nutcracker took as the basis of its libretto not the E.T.A.H. tale but the retelling of the tale by Alexandre Dumas, pere.
ETAH's was called "The nutcarcker and the mouseking"
AD's "The nutcracker of nuremburg"
the latter being far less dark and/or convoluted than the former.
and finally the original libretto certainly simplified matters still further.
btw, nureyev's nutcracker prod. is also on tape/dvd(?) (with the royal ballet and also w/ paris opera ballet, though these may not still be on the market), and it does follow the darkish lines, a la hoffman, that have been picked up by others. all this stems in small part from the vainonen production, in soviet russia, 1934(?), which has influenced every nutcracker by a soviet-russian ever since, nureyev's and baryshnikov's included. vainonen's prod. is also on tape, w/ the kirov).
but nureyev's further emphasizes the darkness and double-meanings: at one point clara's family turns briefly sinister and spooky and bat-like in a hallucinatory moment.
to be sure, tho' his staging doesn't really delve into the dark aspects per se, balanchine has pointed consistently to hoffmann, not dumas, as his source. significantly, he calls his little heroine marie, a la hoffmann, and NOT clara, a la dumas.

#9 BW

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 07:15 PM

Wait, rg, I'm confused - you wrote

Balanchine has pointed consistently to Hoffmann, not Dumas, as his source. Significantly, he calls his little heroine Marie, a la Hoffmann, and NOT Clara, a la Dumas.

And yet, his version is supposed to be the one that is based on Herr Praesident and Frau Silberhaus's Christmas Eve celebration, isn't it?

Or, are you just pointing out the contradiction here?

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 08:14 PM

I honestly believe that Balanchine was throwing a lot of dust in critical eyes when he insisted that his production hewed more closely to Hoffman than Dumas. If he called the little heroine Hermione and put glasses on the Nutcracker Prince, would it then be the based-on-Rowling production? In truth, the act I party scene and battle with the mice underwent no significant changes from his first production at City Center, and the second act divertissement doesn't owe anything to either author. I've been through the Hoffman version of the story and the Dumas, given my bad German and worse French, and I can tell you, they're both spookier and rather meaner-spirited than the Balanchine libretto.

#11 rg

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 08:28 PM

i didn't mean to imply that balanchine meant he was interested in the 'extreme' aspects of hoffmann. just that when you read his remarks about his ballet he refers to hoffmann, not dumas, meaning i suppose that HIS rendering of the original russian petipa/ivanov led him to consider SOME of the details from hoffmann. he seems nowhere particularly to mention dumas.
i think he may even have seen his drosselmeier as a kind of hoffmannesque figure. and that his little heroine was in someway related to his reading of hoffmann, not dumas.
if i seemed to imply that balachine's NUTCRACKER was a rendering of the darker and weirder aspects of hoffmann's original tale, i did not intend to do so.

#12 BW

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 06:52 AM

rg, thank you for your responses!

I really am going to have to go out and read the two "original" versions of this story. Here I was thinking it was all just a nice little Christmas story.:rolleyes: ;)

#13 BW

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Posted 17 December 2002 - 10:10 AM

Just an aside here for anyone who might be interested:

This issue of "The New Yorker" has a very short article, entitled Behind the Scenes: Wise Child by Joan Acocella with two photos by Mary Ellen Mark. Too bad they don't do links. :(

It explains why George Balanchine actually chose to have children play the roles of children in his version of The Nutcracker:

"...Balanchine was being true to the "Nutcracker" of his schooldays-the original, 1892 St. Petersburg production-in which he himself was a child dancer... That's why the Candy Cane's dance and the Prince's beautiful mime solo are the only parts...that reproduce Lev Ivanov's original choreography; because Balanchine danced those roles, he remembered the steps.

But the children's presence is more than an act of fidelity...Clara learns about adult love, and begins to feel it. But in Balanchine's Wordsworthian view Clara would have been lucky to say the way she was-imagining, not becoming...Children, he felt, knew better than adults; they lived the true life, the life of the mind. "Nonreality is the real thing," he said..."


Ms. Acocella concludes her piece by saying that because of Mr. Balanchine's feelings about children, they had to be in it...for "they were the source of its wisdom."

The photographs are interesting too - not your typical cute Nutcracker kid pictures... If you're familiar with Mary Ellen Mark's work you won't be surprised. They are in black and white and have a very dreamlike quality to them with tiny bits of "reality" poking through. But most of all I am glad I read the piece for that quote: "Nonreality is the real thing." :D

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 17 December 2002 - 10:17 AM

Thank you for that, BW. Balanchine said something very similar to that on the PBS documentary about his life -- it's a voice over, discusing Chaconne. "You see, the real world is not here." Some day we'll have to have a discussion about reality/artificiality in art :D

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 December 2002 - 04:39 PM

It's an interesting issue, isn't it? I saw a Nutcracker recently in it with a Snow Queen who put her hands on the shoulders of both the lead children and when she did it, I flinched. The intersection of the human world and the idealized world was just too casual. A woman in a tutu is no longer just a woman. She doesn't interact with humans; they don't touch her. Of course there are exceptions - what I'm talking about is just the sense I want a production to have that someone dancing ballet has gone beyond being ordinary. We dance that way because it is an ideal. They don't do ordinary things in an ordinary way. The same production left the Sugar Plum Fairy unattended when she listened to Clara and the Prince. Again, it jarred me. She has attendants. You never leave her without attendants, except possibly to do her variation. She's not merely human.


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