In the repertory of classical ballets, there is one ballet that trumps them all. It isn’t number one because of the physical demands, and it is definitely not number one because of artistic merit. In fact, this ballet probably is the most unartistic for any artist. It is probably the most recognized of score of any ballet music, from variations, to even the prologue, everyone knows it. It is the beast: THE NUTCRACKER.
It is no secret that most ballet companies make money twice a year. The first is by offering summer programs from June-August. The second comes in December and seats are sold out for their annual productions of the Nutcracker. For the majority of companies, the Nutcracker runs seamless. Everyone already knows all the parts, they are just waiting for the casting. Lighting, and costuming is already done for the most part, and just rely on tweaking things here and there. For marketing and PR, it is the best time to host fundraisers since everyone is in that holiday spirit of donating money. And for the audiences, it is that timeless, almost boring tradition, that doesn’t go away.
For most young aspiring dancers, the Nutcracker was the first ballet parents ever took us to. Whether it was on VHS, directly talking about the Baryshnikov and Kirkland version, or PNB’s collaboration with Maurice Sendak. Or, the NYCB version featuring Macauly Culkin and Darci Kistler. So, for the majority of our young lives we prayed that one day we would get to dance in the Nutcracker. And then it happens… You get cast in your school’s version of the Nutcracker. You start as a child in Mother Ginger and party scene. You pray that you get picked to be Clara/Marie, and maybe you do. Then, you start to get smaller supporting roles, and finally you are in the corps of flowers and snow. By 13, you are dancing Marzipan/Mirlitons, and by 15 you are maybe Dew Drop. Next thing you know you are at a professional ballet school, and you never get to dance in Nutcracker again. Until, one day you are lucky enough to land yourself a company contract.
Five years later, after dancing professionally, you hear the music at department stores and cringe. Now you dread Nutcracker. It is the most boring of the ballets, and you dance it time and time again. If you are still a corps member you already know that you will be a party parent and in the same show you will have to dance in both snow and flowers. You hear the same corrections in flowers, “Bend more!” or “Watch your spacing.” In snow you already know that you need to move a little quicker than the music, and you watch the new apprentices and corps members struggle to keep up. Yup, it is that holiday tradition of being in a ballet company that brings dancers together.
So, what is it about this ballet that is so charismatic and is performed every season?
5 reasons why the Nutcracker will never go away…
- Curse you Tchaikovsky! The score of Nutcracker is close to flawless in terms of musical genius. All of the music is relatable, catchy, and keeps the audience entertained.
- It is magical, and is every little girl’s dream. Because it is the first ballet we ever see, it becomes engrained in us. It sparks the hope of millions of little girls to become ballet dancers.
- It is short and sweet. The shortest of the classical ballets, where the story is compressed into the first act and the second act is purely about the dancing. It is probably the only ballet your dad can sit through. Most little girls can’t sit through all of Swan Lake, or even get through act I without having to use the bathroom, get bored, or fall asleep.
- The test of a dancer. Dancers I think are tested a lot in the Nutcracker. Because you have so many performances, there are a lot more casting opportunities. If in a run of a regular program there may be only two or three casts. During Nutcracker, there are at least five casts, if not more. This gives the Artistic Director a chance to play around with their dancers. For an artistic director who wants to see something more dark and mysterious from a dancer, he will cast her in Arabian/Coffee. If they want to test a dancer’s stamina they put her Dew Drop. And if they want to see maturity, and ability they cast in her Sugar Plum.
- It makes money! If it wasn’t for the Nutcracker, dancers wouldn’t have jobs for an entire season. So, we suck it up so we can dance all year round.