The Nutcracker

The Ballet of Christmas:”

An In-depth Reflection of Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s “The Nutcracker”

On Friday, November 26th, the Grand Rapids Ballet Company held their opening performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Detroit Opera House. This performance, filled with fantasy and child-like wonder, is Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet that has become a traditional part of the Christmas holiday for many American families. In this production, the director, Patricia Barker, made sure that the magical essence and graceful beauty found within the story of the young child, Clara, and her Christmas present, the Nutcracker, held the leading role of the ballet.

The story began with friends and family making their journey to the Christmas party being held at Clara’s home. As the dancers walked across the stage, each parent and child brought forth a strong character that made the rest of Act 1 much more interesting to watch. It held snooty little girls, rambunctious boys, a goofy and somewhat flirty grandfather, and the ever-mysterious giver of the nutcracker, Councilor Drosselmeyer.

As the party begins, each child is given a special present from under the giant, magical tree. The girls receive elegant dolls which they hold with great tenderness and care; where as the boys receive toys riffles allowing them to play in such a way that young boys do. As the party continues, a dark, mysterious figure arrives causing many of the party’s participants to show faces of concern and fright. Relief and joy is shown when this unknown character reveals himself to be Councilor Drosselmeyer, the godfather of Clara and her brother, Fritz.

As Drosselmeyer arrives, he not only brings with him two magical, life-size dolls, but he also brings a very special present for Clara, the nutcracker. The jealously amongst the other children, Fritz included, is very apparent once Clara begins to show off her beautiful gift. This leads to a struggle between clara and her brother which ends in the nutcracker’s arm being torn off. While Drosselmeyer is quick to fix
the precious toy, the mood of the party begins to decline, and the numerous guests being their journey home, leaving in the same matter in which they came.

When the grandfather clock strikes 12, the true magic of this show begins. Clara, who should be in bed, enters to play with her beautiful nutcracker and ends up falling asleep in her grandmother’s favorite chair. As her dreams take over, adult and children mice come out to play and wreak havoc within the house. In order to save Clara from these mice and their evil Rat King, the precious nutcracker becomes life size and gathers soldiers to fight the evil mice away.

This battle scene is one that is seen in every version of the Nutcracker ballet; however, the Grand Rapids Ballet Company brought true magic to it. The mice were costumed with grey bodies and giant mice head pieces, and the soldiers were given the toy weapons of spark-shooting cannons and polished riffles. As the battled ensues, the Rat King and the Nutcracker fight head to head to achieve victory. The Rat King soon gains the upper hand by severely injuring the Nutcracker; however, when it seems all is lost, Clara comes to the rescue and kills the Rat King by hitting him over the head with her shoe.

Once the battle is finished, Clara begins to morn for the loss of her precious nutcracker. Too distracted by her grief she fails to see the magic that is taking place around her. Smoke created from dry ice surrounds the body of the fallen Nutcracker and within seconds, a healed and real-life Nutcracker Prince emerges.

This particular scene was by far one of the more magical moments throughout the ballet. I have attended many Nutcracker performances, and Patricia Barker’s approach to this scene was the best I have seen so far. The prince emerging from the smoke made the magic of the story seem much more real, and sitting in the audience, you could hear the excitement and awe from all of the children watching.

After the prince collects Clara from her grief, he decides to show his gratitude by taking her to his magical kingdom. They head off in a sleigh being guided by some of the cutest angels you will ever see and pass through the land of wind and snow.

Many of the Nutcracker ballets I have attended have only made “snow” a part of the journey so seeing the dancers perform as “wind” was a new experience for me. I did, however, enjoy it, for I felt that it was a nice contrast to the softness of the “snow” choreography. The “wind” choreography was made to be much more strong and harsh by the addition of sharp arms and multiple leaps throughout the routine.

Once the magical kingdom was reached, the Nutcracker Prince introduced Clara to the people of his land. There were the Spanish Hot Chocolate, the Arabian Coffee Princess and her court, the Clowns, Mother Gingerbread and her Bon Bons, the Chinese Tea, the Flowers, the Reeds, and the Russian Candy Canes. Each group performed a routine of thanks to show Clara their gratitude for saving their dear Nutcracker Prince. The Queen and King of the land, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, also took part in a long performance that many people view as the highlight of the entire ballet.

In this performance of the Grand Rapids Ballet, Dawnell Dryja held the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her precision and technique was beautiful to watch in this challenging role. While there were a few small fumbles during the lifts, her amazing turns and performance quality more than made up for it.

Once the performances were finished, the people of the Magical Kingdom said their goodbyes to Clara, and she was taken home by the Angels guiding the magical sleigh.

As Clara awakes in her grandmother’s favorite chair, everyone begins to wonder if the magic that seemed to take place was true. While this question will continue to linger within the minds of the audience, the answer does not matter, for the magical moments they experienced will remain in their hearts and minds regardless.

Photos taken by:Chris Clark | The Grand Rapids Press

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~ by camccain on November 27, 2010.

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