Everyone knows the production of the Nutcracker, in fact, you have probably been to several yourself.Â You may think you know the Nutcracker, but think again.Â The Wall Street Journal has a piece in which they embark on a quest for the historical Nutcracker.
You know the lead dancer, the sugar-plum fairy, right?Â Maybe you don’t.Â With some engaging historical research the Journal had this to say about the so-called “sugar-plum.”
But how many individuals nowadays staging, performing in, or attending “The Nutcracker” realize that this sweet-sounding item has no connection to the fruit we know as a plum, nor to granulated sugar, which seems to sparkle on many notions of sugarplums dancing in the heads of those pondering the ballet.
Perhaps required reading for anyone planning to converse knowledgably at annual “Nutcracker” performances should be “The Nutcracker Ballet,” Jack Anderson’s 1979 book (no longer in print, but available used). On pages 188 and 189, the author helpfully gives a recipe for Barley Sugar, a boiled product and the basic ingredient for making sugarplums. The end result is a sweet, chewy, rounded little morsel: Think Gummy Bears, without the electric colors and teddy-bear features.
Furthermore, a Tchaikovsky scholar has just completed some sobering research for all those ballet directors who have a penchant for mythologizing.Â Apparently, the fantastic happenings in the Nutcracker should not be reduced to mere delusions or night-dreams, but celebrated and enjoyed as real events.
Other required reading for those who want to be confidently conversant with the seemingly over-familiar ballet might be “On Meaning in ‘Nutcracker,’” a 1984 essay in the British journal Dance Research by Tchaikovsky scholar Roland John Wiley. In his article, the author notes that “the fantastic events” of the ballet, from the middle of act one onward, are “not Clara’s dream.” Whether one calls the ballet’s little heroine Marie, as Hoffmann and Balanchine did, or Clara, as the Russian ballet’s original libretto chose to do, to fully honor the world that the ballet’s creators set out to depict, choreographers should not treat the kingdoms of snow and of sweets visited by the ballet’s girl character as merely the fanciful dreams of a naÃ¯ve child.
I hope you can enjoy the Nutcracker a bit more now that it you know its real history.