Saturday, December 11, 2010

‘Nutcracker’ has proved irresistible

One of my earliest Christmas memories is watching a television program with my mother — a musical presentation of The Nutcracker, which is rendered in my recollection in glorious fuzzy black-andwhite, though we may have had a color TV at the time.

(I’m sure I recall watching Star Trek during that same era in color.)

The particular images that linger from that night’s show are of the young heroine being forcibly separated from her heroic prince by the evil mice; the prince leaping and swinging his wide scimitar to scatter the wicked rodents; and, yes, the scores of beautiful, synchronized dancing women.

Who could say no to sugarplum fairies?

Apparently, there were some who could. Critics hated The Nutcracker ballet when it debuted in 1892. Its creator, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, (already renowned for his Swan Lake in 1877) wrote friends that "the periodicals" were "carving up" his new creation like a Christmas duck.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the ballet’s first reviews (Dec. 8, 1892), as quoted on the Web site "The Nutcracker cannot in any event be called a ballet … the production of such ‘spectacles’ is an insult. ... God grant that similar failed experiments do not happen often."

Thank goodness that newspaper writers aren’t the sole arbiters of good taste and cultural refinement, and that clearer-headed audiences continued to support the ballet.

The St. Petersburg Classic Russian Nutcracker will be presented Dec 18, 2010 (Sat) 7:30 PM at the Panama City Marina Civic Center, presented by Willis Ballet and featuring The Saint-Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre of Marina Medvetskaya.

Then, Moscow Ballet's "GREAT RUSSIAN NUTCRACKER" will be Dec 29, 2010 (Wed) 7:30 PM at the Marina Civic Center, with director Vladimir Troschenko and principal dancers Cristina & Alexi Terentieva. This "spectacle" will feature several vignettes with local children who have practiced for their roles at area dance academies. Tour officials say that, over the course of their various tours, they have given more than 45,000 children a chance to perform with a professional production.

That’s a lot of sugarplum fairies — and full-color Christmas memories.


(The preceding was originally written in advance of a Nutcracker performance in 2004 and was my Undercurrents column for Dec. 4 of that year. It has been edited to include updated performance information.)

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