The Nutcracker is a holiday classic, yet this is the first time I’ve ever experienced it. Presented by Symphony Nova Scotia, Mermaid Theatre and Halifax Dance for nearly 25 years, I hope to make it a seasonal tradition.
Seated in the front row, at the lip of the orchestra, led by maestro Bernhard Gueller, I was awestruck by the gorgeous movement of the matinee performance. Surrounded by school-aged children, a few newborns and families, it’s the universality of the story that gives The Nutcracker its timelessness.
As a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, scored by Pytor IIyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is based on the libretto based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. And it’s not just ballerinas prancing about the stage with grace amongst a swelling symphony; The Nutcracker is a visual narrative of luscious delights—beautiful costumes, impressive set design and at its core, a story of love and courage.
Essentially, the basic plot of The Nutcracker is a story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a battle against a Mouse King with several heads. This much I remembered from girlhood, reading stories while babysitting and pop culture. But what struck me was the battle between good and evil, and how bravery triumphs. How dreams are transcendent.
With several epic scenes, including the opening party, and a great fight scene as the clock strikes midnight (and strange things start to happen). As the Nutcracker awakens, he is led into battle with the mice. The Mouse King corners the Nutcracker, and challenges him to a duel. The Nutcracker is no match for the Mouse King, and eventually Clara comes to his rescue.
Not only are the ballet dancers compelling, it’s the surge of the symphony that truly brings this scene to its soaring heights. In the particular production, it was all female ballerinas, and I couldn’t help but think of the inherent feminism. All of these young women, rich with talent, tenacity and confidence beaming on their smiling faces. Even the little boy seated next to me on his mother’s lap half-whispered: "when are the boys coming on stage?"
Though, by far, my inner child was completely enchanted by The Land of Snow, where the Nutcracker turns into a prince and takes Clara on a wintery journey, welcomed by dancing snowflakes. It was a sparkly wonderland filled with colour, motion and embodiment.
Naturally, The Land of Sweets was the most familiar scene for a first time Nutcracker viewers, who were likely me and the newborns, most of the children and parents in the audience seemed familiar with the story, and were dressed up in their Christmas finest.
When Clara and the Prince meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, they celebrate their daring mice battle with a series of dances. It’s within these dances, I had to pause, both for the little girl within, and woman I am now, as the swirling symphony and beautiful ballerinas reminded me a the foundation of life is magic, and we must continue to believe, no matter what age.
Just as the dream ends, and Clara wakes up in her bed with the Nutcracker tucked in on her pillow, the audience rose to our feet, placed our palms together and filled the Rebecca Cohn with a thunder of applause, screaming babies and all.
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