The High Quarterly

The Nutcracker: A little bit of sparkle for all 03/02/2017

When the first notes of the instantly recognisable Tchaikovsky overture begin and the curtains open to two hours of entrancing ballet, stunning scenery and costumes, the audience knows Christmas has begun. Through the two hours, the audience is swept away and encapsulated by the magic of not only christmas but a return to childhood. The ballet has romance, adventure, magic and a tour of both the world as we know it, including Chinese, Arabian, Spanish and Russian dancers, and the enchanted world of a child’s imagination. However, this world renowned ballet has not always been what it is today.


The Nutcracker is an adaptation by Alexandre Dumas of the story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffmann, commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatre in 1890. Tchaikovsky, after the resounding success of Sleeping Beauty, was tasked with composing the music. He struggled in this, appalled by the seemingly infantile and shallow narrative and convinced that the ballet was unlikely to be a success. However, Tchaikovsky experienced a rekindled inspiration during this period, when he learned of the death of his sister Sasha. Clara, the young protagonist, formed a parallel for his sister, and his composition was fuelled by childhood memories of Christmas and his grief. Through Clara, Sasha was able to live on.  The ballet that many view as an escape from the everyday world just in time for Christmas, was in fact Tchaikovsky’s own escape from his tormenting grief, and his sister’s escape from mortality. 


      Despite its emotional intensity, The Nutcracker originally received mixed reviews on its first performance in St Petersburg in 1892. Some criticised the ballet itself, or lack of it until the second act, others bemoaned the lack of fluency in the narrative. As a result, the first complete performance of the ballet outside Russia did not take place until 1934, forty two years later in England, and here it received a far better reception and has been performed annually here since 1953. Last year, on the 16th December, it was screened across the world to around 2,000 cinemas, illustrating its now global reach.  


Whilst many believe that The Nutcracker is a light hearted, magical ballet, reminiscent of childhood dreams and fantasies, I personally believe this undersells the depth of the ballet. It is not just a magnificent mix of dancing, costumes and scenery, it is not just a story of Christmas or childhood, it carries the message that childhood will end, as will the magic. Christmas fantasies and childhood innocence fade, however, as Tchaikovsky did and millions of audiences across the world continue to do every year, we can revisit and recreate this magic, once again regressing to childhood and its little bit of sparkle.  


Nina Halgarth L6KEL 

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