During all six+ decades of my time here I’ve been appreciating Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet suite. Every now and then, woven throughout this life I’d hear snippets of the musical adventure–dance of the mirlitons, the sugar plum fairy, snow queen, the Nutcracker Prince . . . whether spinning across the airwaves from WDAV, or sacheting through some mall soundtrack, or whirling around in my childhood recollections, maybe gliding through a Christmas scenario from some ancient yuletide celebration in days of old. Whether it be a shimmering tinsel of exotic melody that hangs upon my personal memory, or some almost-seen glimmering remnant from a collective archive of European culture, I haven’t a clue.
Then last night we saw the actual ballet performed at Charlotte.
Whoa! What an experience.
As the dancers initiated their rite of midwinter reverie, my first thought was about the stage setting in their background. How much the world has changed! since Petr Ilyich first cast this musical extravaganza into the world’s imagination. The immensity of the Christmas tree, the lavish grandiosity of what is obviously a mansion setting, and the quaintly sumptuous finery of the characters’ costumes–these elements of the story are quaintly outmoded, and did not portend a ballet that would reflect sensitivity to contemporary political correctness.
The family depicted in the story do not seem to represent regular folks–certainly not Democrats, anyway.
I mean, they look like old-fashioned rich people, like we used to see in old British movies, all dressed in frills and formality. Maybe they’re actually . . . the dreaded 1%! Or maybe even (Tchaikovsky being a Russian) they are those heartless Russian nobility types whose vast domains were enriched by the toil and sweat of peasants.
I thought: This is going to be a ballet about upper crust Ruskies whose prosperity was directly dependent on the Czar’s authoritarian feudalism, before the Bolsheviks began redistributing the Old World’s old money into new Leninist revolutionary paths of proletarian appropriation. This stageplay is not going to be an egalitarian holiday presentation. No Little Match Girl or Dickensian Tiny Tim tearjerker here.
I wasn’t really thinking that. I’m a Republican after all.
But the ballet is, as it turns out, one colorful yuletide episode in a little rich girl’s life. How politically incorrect is that? And if that wasn’t bourgeois enough, the setting then morphs into the little rich girl’s dream– the whole second half of the show is a little rich girl’s fantasy! Don’t tell anyone.
Now I can understand the palace-like marbled grandiosity of the Bank of America Center interiors, which I was forced to walk through while ambling from the parking garage to the theatre. (Even though Wells Fargo sponsored the Event. Go figure.) This ballet is part of a vast capitalist plot to make every middle and lower class family just like the well-endowed family whose holiday fantasy is dramatized in the Nutcracker!
I can’t believe the Democrats met here, right outside those doors in downtown Charlotte, only two years ago!
Is it a Russian plot?
That dancing Prince looks pretty nutty if you ask me. I wonder if he’s somehow connected to Putin’s power-grabbing aspirations!
Nevertheless, in spite of all that hog-wild rumination trying to drag my sugar plum appreciations into politically correct judgements, we had a great musical experience with the Charlotte Ballet, accompanied by Charlotte Symphony! I was thoroughly enthralled as the dancers whirled around Petr Ilyich’s construct of an Old World 1%er child’s fantasy, while the stage-setters did their magic under the influence of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s imaginative dancing mastery.
Somewhere between the pageantry of high-hatted toy soldiers and the mysteriously dissonant celesta, which accompanies Sugar Plum Fairy’s confectionary grace, I found myself amazed at the “diversity” represented in Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century rendering of an old Hoffman tale.
My amazement started in the first scene, with the post-modernly mechanical movements of the the Toy Doll and the Nutcracker Doll. These motions were incredibly like mime, or even hiphop. I didn’t know if I was flashing on Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau, or Michael Jackson.
To further complicate my prior expectations about ballet, I had to ask: Who would have thought an outlier Russian symphonist would include Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, and Chinese tea in his fantastic array of pirouetting spices? And then he blends them into a Czarist celebration of one family’s opulent holiday festivities?
But old Petr managed to do it. Quite an amazing guy, that Russian.
From listening to his music over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that the composer spent his whole symphonic life trying, time after time, to perfect the delicate art of orchestral crescendo. The Nutcracker represents, it seems to me, an exotic side-trip in that lifelong dynamic project. While 1812 Overture and the Swan Lake were brilliant expressions of that quest for the perfectly constructed crescendo, The Nutcracker is a different character entirely–a wildly musical collection of diverse cultural adventures, 19th-century style. Maybe that’s why its seasonal popularity has launched Petr Ilyich’s masterpiece of sweetness of into one of the world’s most enduring classics.