Am I the only dancer in the world who is less than enthused about the yearly Nutcracker festival, also known as December, the Christmas (and occasionally) Hanukkah holiday season? Here goes, loud and proud: I. do. not. like. the. Nutcracker.
My dislike started at an early age, with the obligatory Nutcracker viewing (Live! In a theater!) as a family treat. I remember that I had no idea what was going on. The supposed magic didn’t entrance or enthrall me at all. The evil (ish) Uncle (or friend, or whoever he was) didn’t seem very mysterious or threatening. Instead, I wondered who the weird guy was waving around a creepy doll that wasn’t a doll. And why was Clara so excited? With that hard head and lever sticking out the back, her prized nutcracker couldn’t be cuddled or snuggled. Who’d want a non-cuddly toy? (I was very big on stuffed animals as a child). Once the second act started I was equally mystified. There seemed to be no reason or motivation for all the hoopla that was going on.
I wish I could say I feel differently as a grown up, but I don’t. I still find this particular ballet to be lackluster no matter how amazing the dancers are (and the dancers are often wonderful). Please don’t hate me for this.
Reasons pro/con for cracking nuts
Con: Too Slow (aka the first act)
Let’s face it-the party scene is a snooze, and not very interesting. I never found the mysterious uncle that mysterious, or the dancing dolls at all captivating. Clara and her brother’s sibling issues? Boring. Party guests dancing? Yawn.
Pro: The Mice (aka the exception)
Yes, call me crazy, but this is the BEST PART. Can’t defend it, but there it is-perhaps a mice-themed Nutcracker would change my mind about this ballet, but I doubt it, because mice dancing the Nutcracker wouldn’t be the same as the dancing mice in the Nutcracker (are you following this?) Anyway, once you get into the 2nd act you have to deal with:
Con: The variations (with one or two small pros)
I find these to be endless, and mostly unexciting, though I am willing to make an exception for Russian (sometimes). And I do enjoy watching Arabian just to see which pretzel-y shapes the ballerina bends herself into.
I admit this version, danced by the Moscow ballet, is interesting (I especially like the elephants in the background) but overall I find the 2nd act quirky/cutesy but not in a good way (ie, Chinese), or overly sweet and saccharine (no surprise since we’re dealing with the sugar plum fairy after all). And when I watch all those girls dancing in the snow I hold my breath through the whole thing, again not in a good way-I’m scared someone will slip and fall on those flakes. The whole thing also lacks the evil villain/villainess (or caddish, shallow prince) you find in many traditional ballets (Drosselmeyer doesn’t cut it in this department). And the dramatic tension that I feel (and love) in Swan Lake or Giselle just isn’t there.
Maybe I’m just being too Grinchy, after all, and putting too much pressure on this much loved ballet tradition. For many people the Nutcracker is ballet, and many companies (and dancers) depend on it for a large portion of their yearly budget. But I plan to finish out my holiday without nuts this year!