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November 26, 2007

Cracking the Old Chestnut

John Stoehr


The Moscow Ballet presents the Great Russian Nutcracker twice at the North Charleston (S.C.) Performing Arts Center next week.

I've seen it before. I didn't like it.

Not because it was performed poorly. This ensemble boasts world-class costumes and choreography. Its dancers are beautiful, graceful, poised, and powerful -- everything you'd expect from an esteemed Russian ballet.

What I didn't like was their interpretation.

After complaining to people who know a lot about dance, I was told to shut it. The Moscow Ballet's take is standard, up there with the best dance troupes in the world, like American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Theatre.

I guess I'm in the minority. So what's new? Bottom line: In this version, The Nutcracker is a political message.

In the traditional interpretation, a young girl named Clara, led by her toy Nutcracker, helps defeat the Rat King. Then she gets to romp through a world of fairies, toys, candy, and more.

In this re-telling, though, a child's whimsy is turned into a Utopian fantasy. Warring factions stop fighting. All is peace and harmony.

Moreover, Clara, whose name is now Masha, is not a girl. She is a nubile teenager bashfully coming of age. And Drosselmeyer, who is typically her godfather, turns into a kind of matchmaker. He doesn't give her a toy nutcracker to play with. He gives her a strapping young lad in tights to play with instead.

One can't help noticing the sexual implications of Masha's new man-doll.

Which isn't the problem. What I disliked was the mushy we-are-the-world pap of the work's second half.

See, the first half builds up to the second: the dances of coffee, of chocolate, of tea, and so on. Then the climax: The Nutcracker Prince dances with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara's a kid. Having her watch all the exotic dances, and the grown ups dancing, makes sense.

But turning her into a teenager obscures all that. The Sugar Plum Fairy doesn't get the guy. Masha does. Meanwhile, the exotic dances become a multicultural love-fest, with each country getting its own mascot (sheep representing France, if that makes any sense).

I know, I know. But I don't like my Christmas stories transformed, oddly, into a make-love-not-war manifesto. Peace on Earth was enough for Jesus. Me, too.

Cross-posted on Unscripted

Posted by John Stoehr at November 26, 2007 1:46 PM


You should consider yourself lucky.

Once I had to sit through a "Nutcracker" where the war between the mice and the soldiers ended with a handshake and a peace offering of cheese.

This was because the artistic director thought the spectacle of toy soldiers killing mice sent a negative message to small children. Seriously.

Posted by: gary panetta at November 28, 2007 12:19 PM

I think you should first read the original story by Hoffman ( 1816 ) to find out which story has been transformed and by who.

Also, once you do that,please, understand that the name Marie in Russian is the equivalent to Masha... and so on...
here's a link you might find interesting to read about.

Posted by: Isabelle Dujours at December 6, 2007 3:07 PM