Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Nutcracker Chronicles"

A scene from New York City Ballet's production of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker"

Alistair Macaulay, dance critic for the New York Times, has been writing a series of articles on "The Nutcracker" ballet called "The Nutcracker Chronicles."  He proposes to see at least 20 productions across the country by the end of December in order to uncover the reasons that Americans love this ballet so much.  I've read many of the articles and enjoyed the gorgeous photos from the various productions  he has seen. Mostly I've been interested in his theories about why this ballet is so beloved in this country; maybe his ideas would help me understand why I love it so much.

I saw "The Nutcracker" for the first time in my twenties when I began to go to ballets and discover the music of Tchaikovsky.  I took my daughters when they were young, and they were enchanted.  It became one of our treasured holiday traditions.  We would see either the visiting Joffrey or the American Ballet Company's productions.  Now I see it whenever I have the opportunity, especially  if I'm in New York or San Francisco around Christmas.

Macauley writes that the popularity of this ballet in America says as much about this country as it does about the work of art.   The ballet's popularity at Christmas time is easy to understand:  its combination  "of children, parents, toys, a Christmas tree, sweets, and Tchaikovsky's astounding score is integral to the season."  But what makes it so popular in America, as opposed to other countries, is more complicated.  As he finishes up his "Nutcracker" marathon by the end of December, he hopes to have a better understanding of this issue.

At this point he has some very interesting theories:

He believes that more than any other ballet, "The Nutcracker" is about children. American audiences love to watch children and innocence in general.  Also, it is about travel into new terrain (the hero and heroine take a journey) and a prince giving his hand to the young middle-class heroine, feeding American concepts of exploration and equality. When the heroine arrives in the paradiselike Land of Sweets, she is welcomed and embraced.  The idea of newcomers being welcomed and embraced in a new land, this is another American idea of what this country can be.

It will be interesting to read Macauley's conclusions at the end of his journey.  My feeling is that many people remember the magical feelings of Christmas they had as children, and seeing the "Nutcracker" helps them to get in touch with those feelings again.  The music, the dancing, the spectacle, the snow, the giant tree...they all inject some magic into the holiday season.  For me, seeing "The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition I love, adding sparkle, beauty, and joy to the season.      

Photos from the New York Times


  1. When something has staying power and universal themes, people are immediately drawn to its comforts. Think of all the different variations the ballet can take. It also helps that the music is so beautiful, almost infectious. Just think...can you remember any time you didn't have the chills while watching as the music swells as the tree grows from the Earth, higher and higher - piercing the snowy sky? Neither can I...

  2. So cozy - ballet is really in the zeitgeist at the moment. seeing the nutcracker as a little girl was the most magical thing ever. love.