Friday, December 26, 2014

Great Moments: The Nutcracker by American Ballet Theater 1976

The Nutcracker premiered in December of 1892. It was not a big hit. In fact it didn't become a big hit until the 1960's when it became a traditional performance around Christmas. The New York City Ballet was the first to make this an annual tradition starting in 1954 according to Wikipedia and then in the 60's this spread around the country.

By 1976 The Nutcracker was popular nationwide and this is when the American Ballet Theater put on, what is I believe, the greatest production of The Nutcracker.  I'm certainly not an expert on ballet, but like everyone else I know what I like when I see it, and I know that I love this production.  I love their interpretation of the story, I love their choreography, and I love how they used their two star performers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. 

One of the things that is wonderful about ballet is that the music and the story are open to interpretation.  So a ballet can be completely reworked, completely rethought by each company that performs it.  This means you won't see the same version of The Nutcracker performed over and over again, though there are usually consistent themes. 

According to Wikipedia in 1919 Alexander Gorsky was the first to interpret the ballet with the Nutcracker and Clara being portrayed by adult dancers and eliminating the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier.  By doing this you open up the ballet to become a much more storied production and also open up a lot of dancing to two lead dancers.

So in 1976 when the American Ballet Theater went into production they chose this interpretation.  After all they had two of the greatest dancers in the history of ballet to play the two lead roles and you would like to give them as much stage time as possible.  They did not disappoint. 

Sad to say I have seen this ballet performed many times on stage and I have never seen a live performance that uses this interpretation.  I find it to be a much smarter interpretation of the ballet as it allows you to give your two leads much greater stage time, but also makes I think smarter use of the beautiful music written by Peter Tchaikovsky.  This is especially true for the "Op. 71, Act II: Troisieme Tableau, No. 14a La Fee Dragee et le prince Orgeat" in this 1976 production.  This is staged as a final solo dance for the two stars and takes full advantage of the incredibly romantic music. 

In this more adult interpretation of the story, Clara is still a young girl, but she is old enough to be lured by the love she feels for the Nutcracker turned Prince in her dream.  And in this American Ballet Theater performance we get a wonderfully romantic scene as Clara fights to stay with her Prince even as her godfather is trying to rouse her out of her dream to return to reality. 

For me I doubt that I will ever see a production of The Nutcracker that I like better.  It is unbelievable to me just how good are Baryshnikov and Kirkland.  If you have never seen this version of the ballet it is definitely worth watching.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for introducing me to this. I look forward to watching it before the end of Christmastide.