The Nutcracker gets political

The Nutcracker is traditionally the festive season’s ballet that warms the heart and turns adults into starry-eyed children.

Photo Credit: Moscow Ballet

The tree that grows and grows

The festive season wouldn’t be the Festive Season without The Nutcracker – over the years TheEye can’t count the number of productions she has seen and never tired of the enchantment.

According to Tamara Rojo, director of the English National Ballet Company, ‘Nutcracker is essential, it’s not just the financial benefit to the company or the fact that we have been performing it for 7o years. It’s also very often the first exposure children have with the art form and the development of audiences that Nutcracker allows can’t be overestimated.’

The ballet was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1892 and TheEye thinks its appeal has something in common with a large tin of Quality Street chocolates containing only the favorite ones wrapped in shiny purple paper.

TheEye says: What is there not to love? Put all cynicism away and enjoy the fantasy.

San Francisco’s Ballet, image cca. 2013

However, this year, some productions across the world have been described as ‘controversial’. It seems unbelievable that anyone could accuse this delightful fantasy of being anything other than enchanting.

Here is a 1958 TV broadcast of the Act II Pas De Deux from THE NUTCRACKER danced by the incomparable Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes

The New York Times recently ran a feature by the current dance correspondent, Javier Hernández, commenting that many prominent U.S. dance companies were rethinking the depiction of Asians in the ballet and introducing new characters in response to the wave of anti-Asian hate that intensified over the pandemic combined with a broader reckoning over racial discrimination.

TheEye finds this sad and depressing.

Was there a similar reaction to characters in Fiddler On The Roof? Tevye, the poor milkman, famously played by Chaim TopolTheEye thinks not.

Chaim Topol as Tevye the Dairyman

But Tevye and the other characters are stereotypical Jews. No one complains as they are now doing with The Nutcracker.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of the excellent Boston Ballet Company made the following statement: ‘we look at everything through the lens of diversity, equality, and inclusion. That’s the way of the future and Berlin State Ballet has decided to forgo The Nutcracker entirely this year amid growing concerns about racial portrayals of Asians. A company spokesman said they intend to ‘re-contextualize’ the ballet this year and would eventually bring it back. Goodness knows what they will do to spoil it.

Preston Chamblee, a member of the New York City Ballet corps, making his debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier.

There seems to be a new political agenda attached to everything and The Nutcracker has not been spared.

Alastair Macaulay, a former New York Times dance correspondent, wrote that ‘over the years the Nutcracker has become an American institution – an amalgam of snow, sweets and, of course, Tchaikovsky’s astounding score, which is integral to the season of goodwill.’ Macaulay embarked on a Nutcracker Marathon crisscrossing the country from coast to coast – taking in big cities and small off-the-radar towns seeing how they rated.

Nowhere in the world is it as beloved as in the US, unlike Russia, where it isn’t treasured as either Swan Lake or Giselle are.

Surprising?

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden was a Nutcracker-free zone for more than 20 years. Nowadays there is nothing too outrageous the ballet can’t be adapted to – The Love Show in NYC is presenting ‘The Nutcracker Rated R’, the San Fransisco Bay area offers a Lesbian/Gay freedom band and band dance-along and the Jewish Maccabee Movement  – The Jewish Nutcracker.

Sebastián Villarini-Velez with his Sugar Plum Fairy, Sara Adams. Credit: Rachel Papo for The New York Times

Plenty to appeal to all tastes.

© 2021 Time Out Magazine

But last, and certainly not least, there is Matthew Bourne‘s unique take on the ballet, influenced by musicals of the 1930s at Sadler’s Wells.

BUT

Sadly the dreaded Omicron virus has kiboshed all these plans and THE ROH just announced they are canceling their New Year’s Eve performance.

So sad not just for audiences but for dancers, musicians, and everyone working in theatres whether it be on the stage or all those working behind the scenes.

In spite of all the uncertainties and anxieties, TheEye wishes everyone a happy, peaceful, and healthy holiday.

City Ballet New York

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for all that interesting background. I’m still hoping to be able to my granddaughters next Saturday to introduce the next generation to the magic X

  2. Glad you got to see it. Happy holidays and hope 2022 brings brighter and healthier times!❤️

  3. Thanks jan.. more than anything now we need a little Fantasy.. it s in shortcsupply..xxx

  4. very interesting, but fingers crossed our old world returns sooner rather than later …

  5. Well said Jan. X

  6. Excellent piece Jan x

  7. Jan,
    Brilliant.

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