I guess there’s no denying that the holiday season is over and Santa’s elves and reindeer are safely back at the North Pole. In New York City, the last performance of George Balanchine’s venerable “Nutcracker” ballet was on January 3. Reviewers reported that after 50 performances in the past season, the musicians and dancers were as fresh and energetic as ever. Tchaikovsky’s 1892 score has something for everyone: an easily-understood story for children, along with sophisticated music and dancing to satisfy the connoisseur.
I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Budapest Opera House just before Christmas. It was a matinee, so naturally there were lots of children excitedly greeting the elves and reindeer stationed outside.
Cast members in costume cheerfully posed for photos with delighted families.
This production was simpler than the one that has served as the model for most American productions. I loved it. The focus was on the music and the dancing, not so much on the sets and costumes (although sets and costumes were exquisite).
The current issue of Vanity Fair magazine has an article about the history of the Balanchine “Nutcracker,” which was first seen 50 years ago. The photo above, of the Waltz of the Flowers, is from the article. It’s at http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/01/the-nutcracker-george-balanchine.
Balanchine’s New York City Ballet version is available on DVD, in its 1989 production which featured the adorable child actor Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker/Prince. I watch it every year. I love it, but I find it a little over-complicated. There’s a Godfather Drosselmeier who produces magical toys, and brings along his nephew who morphs into the Nutcracker/Prince. There’s an owl that perches on a clock that strikes midnight, and a doll-sized bed, and then a full-sized bed that rolls in and out of the wings.
The Budapest production simplified the Drosselmeier character: he was really the children’s father, dressed in a wizard’s cape and conical hat. This seemed psychologically sound; the young girl’s father was the one who introduced her, in a safe way, to the dreamboat Nutcracker/Prince. It seemed appropriate for a girl’s father to show her, in a Christmas dream setting, what she ought to expect from the boys who would inevitably come calling in the future.
It seemed all right to take a photo during a curtain call. The one above was from the beloved dance of the snowflakes.
Was the audience quiet and attentive? Not really! It was filled with children, marveling at the orchestra, the dancing, the costumes, the Opera House, and the Christmas season itself. That’s how I like my Nutcracker–and my Christmas.