Enjoying the Nutcracker!

Behind the scenes of the Nutcracker by Simmons College Radio.

I had the pleasure of seeing Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker over the weekend. Every time I see the ballet, I always find something new to appreciate. As a little girl, I was dazzled by the large sets, the beautiful costumes, the large Christmas tree, and the nutcracker itself. After I first saw the ballet, I announced to my relatives that I was changing my name to Clara. (The only one who indulged me was my maternal grandfather, though the phase didn’t last long). As an adult, I appreciate the grace and poise of the dancers and am in complete awe of what they are capable of doing. And yes, there is still a small part of me who wants to be Clara dancing around with her nutcracker and dreaming about visiting the Sugar Plum Fairy. (I could do without giant mice invading my living room, though).
The Nutcracker ballet has a long history, which you can explore with the help of the library.

  • The Nutcracker was first produced as a ballet, with music written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in Russia in 1892. It was largely based on the story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by the German writer, ETA Hoffman (or Hoffmann, depending on the source). Hoffmann’s protagonist, Marie, turned into Clara in the original ballet, though some later versions of the ballet reverted back to Marie. According to the article, “Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker” by Tamara Eidelman in Russian Life, the name, Clara, was dropped from Russian productions and changed to Masha, during World War I, so as not to appear pro-German. Her brother, Fritz’s name was changed to Misha. Incidentally, Clara was the name of Marie’s doll in Hoffmann’s original story. (You can read the whole article by visiting our subscription database page, selecting the database, World History in Context and typing in “nutcracker tamara eidelman” as keywords.)
  • George Balanchine, choreographed a version for the New York City Ballet starting in 1954. A film version was released in 1993 (starring Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone fame as the Nutcracker prince!) The Library of Congress has a picture of the New York City Ballet performing the Waltz of the Snowflakes in 1962. Our library owns a copy of Balanchine’s modern ballet, Jewels which also features a documentary about the famed choreographer.
  • You can read reviews of various performances of The Nutcracker using our online databases, including early performances from the New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet. Whet your appetite by reading this review of the original George Balanchine production in New York.
  • Author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, designed costumes for the 1983 Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker. A film version was released in 1986. In 1984, Sendak beautifully illustrated ETA Hoffmann’s story.
  • In most versions of The Nutcracker, the female principal dancer is the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Clara is a young girl. This is the version that the Boston Ballet dances. Even though Clara is not the principal dancer, the auditions are intense, as evidenced in Jared Bowen’s article in Boston Common. In some versions of the ballet, though, Clara is an adult and is the principal dancer, performing to the famous “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. In the American Ballet Theater production, choreographed by and starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Clara is an adult, played by Gelsey Kirkland.
  • If you or your children are seeing The Nutcracker for the first time, there are a lot of ways to bring you up to speed. We have several books about the ballet, including The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories and The Harlem Nutcracker based on a production featuring an African-American family in Harlem. The Boston Ballet has a special section on their website called “Just for Kids” which gives the synopsis of the ballet, as well as fun facts. (For instance, according to them, the Sugar Plum Fairy wears out her toe shoes during one performance!)

posted by Laura

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