Saturday, December 24, 2011

All About The Nutcracker

During this holiday season, every celebrant has their favourite symbols. A Christmas tree, the Nativity scene, Menorah, dreidel, Santa...and certainly a living nutcracker prince brought by life with dance, leading gingerbread soldiers against the wicked mouse king to save a little girl who couldn't sleep.

You know, traditional symbols.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky's libretto and E.T.A. Hoffman's short "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" melded into a ballet first performed at the end of the 1800's in Russia. Since then, this whimsical, saccharine, and cliche performance is remade every holiday season...this year by Symphony Nova Scotia! How did this beloved ballet, once disparaged by the composer himself, become part of the collective notion of Christmas?

Ask Jennifer Fisher, author of "Nutcracker" Nation: how an Old World ballet became a Christmas tradition in the New World. (M) Her PhD dissertation is more than just a study of this coming-of-age story. She spent years interviewing dancers, producers, musicians, anyone affiliated with a Nutcracker show. Examining cultural and historical adaptations, she attempted to find the cause of the nutcracker as a traditional holiday figure.

If it has been a while since you've seen it live on stage, see it on your screen at home. In 2004, the internationally renowned Bolshoi Ballet (M) of Russia re-released a DVD version of their 1989 show. Or for the musicologist, go straight to Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker"(M), released in 2010.

Supplement the audio/visual with a title or two. Try "Tchaikovsky: a listener's guide". This book and double CD set introduces the listener to the musical stylings; nearly 20 pages are dedicated to the Nutcracker. Grab a biography, such as David Brown's Tchaikovsky: the man and his music (M), or the DVD Great composers: Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (M).

And finally, since this is a blog about holiday nostalgia, why not give a whirl to a similar Christmas institution, also performing the Nutcracker: check out Radio City Christmas Spectacular (M), starring The Rockettes.

Like I said, we all have our favourites.

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