Yes, boys and girls, once upon a time I was a little girl named Clara. A girl who had a bad dream and woke up being attacked my little mice soldiers and a big rat king. Thank my lucky stars — I had a Nutcracker Prince to save me from my turmoil.
Being raised a ballerina, I cannot help but love and loathe The Nutcracker. I have danced nearly every role in both big and small productions and still have much of the choreography plastered inside my head. What can I say — once a ‘trina, always a ‘trina. And even though Uncle Drosselmeyer is a perv and Clara should take self-defense classes, I still have a soft spot for The Nutcracker and so does the Ovation Network.
Every year Ovation hosts a holiday “Battle of the Nutcrackers” where different interpretations of the Tchaikovsky classic are shown and viewers get to vote on their favorite. I LOVE IT!
This year the following companies are competing: Mariinsky (Russia), Royal Opera House (UK), Berlin State (Germany), Bolshoi (Russia), and the Matthew Bourne production. The voting starts December 12th and you can click here to see the video clips, but I would like to take a moment to share a few Nutcracker highlights.
The original production of The Nutcracker was performed at the Mariinsky Theatre. Choreography: Marius Petipa. Since that time none of the music and very little of the choreography has been altered. If you have been to a professional or regional production then you have probably seen 75% of the 1892 debuted choreography.
There are three reasons for this: first, The Nutcracker is a show performed annually so companies have the money they need to fund the rest of their season and when you’re relying on a show for that much revenue, you want to keep what works. Secondly, The Nutcracker is a show with a very large cast of both dancers and actors and it is performed while other shows are being rehearsed; therefore, it is easier (and more time/cost effective) to not make any changes. One Sugar Plum Fairy can teach another Sugar Plum Fairy the choreography while they are both rehearsing Sleeping Beauty. More importantly, however, is that the essential root of ballet is its tradition of passing down technique and choreography from dancer to dancer. Even if you take only one ballet class in your life you learn that ballerinas are never born, they are taught and sculpted by other dancers. Footwork, gestures, and even walking are specific movements passed down from generation to generation. And so, George Balanchine, Russian, who truly brought ballet to the USA brought Marius Petipa and his choreography to NYC, thus bringing the great Russian classic: The Nutcracker and all its idiosyncratic movements.
For me? I have seen enough Nutcrackers in my life so I am always intrigued by choreographers who try to re-look at the score and the movement. That said, in this post, I am going to share some Nutcracker modernizations that I think are worth considering alongside their traditional counterpart. I name the modern choreographer but all of the traditional renditions are performed by the 2010 “Battle of the Nutcracker” winner: Royal Ballet.
Let’s start with the version that is in the competition this year: Matthew Bourne, UK director and choreographer, whose list of fancy awards is too long to include here Point being, he’s alive and he’s super famous. This clip is the grande pas de deux (duet) near the end of the ballet where the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince dance out their ultimate love for one another.
Here is the Royal Ballet’s version of the same section:
Here is Maurice Bejart, French choreographer, who erased the story of Clara from The Nutcracker and made it all about him, his devotion to his mother, and, of course, his sexual fantasies. This section is his re-invention of the Waltz of the Flowers. He supplemented an accordion in the orchestration and you can see all the eccentric characters that he has introduced throughout the ballet.
Here is the Royal Ballet’s version:
Last but not least, the notorious Mark Morris who I have still not forgiven for publicly embarrassing KR and I for asking why he thought it was a good idea to put a work in progress up on stage when us 16 year olds had paid $60 a piece for our tickets. Irregardless (CS), I will include him here since he has won multiple “Battle of the Nutcrackers” and I love that his snowflakes are both men and women.
Here is Royal Ballet’s version: