Nutty Nutcracker!

Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal

One of my Christmas traditions is seeing The Nutcracker ballet.  I have performed in the Nutcracker several times, as a tin soldier and part of the Flower corps, and also understudied the Snow corps.  I have seen the ballet at least a hundred times, and it has a special place in my heart.

It’s a great ballet for kids because the main character, Clara, is a little girl.  It’s fantasical and has a very easy plot to understand.  It’s also set at Christmas, so it makes for a great tradition this time of year.

My old ballet company has started a new tradition…The Nutty Nutcracker!  It puts a fun twist on the traditional ballet by adding in lots of comedy.  Instead of Drosselmeyer gifting Clara the nutcracker, it is stolen by a hobo and Drosselmeyer spends the first act trying to get it back.

My husband likes the Nutty version better than the traditional, because it keeps your attention the whole way through.  It’s true that the second act of the Nutcracker, the Land of Sweets, has very little plot.

Jeremiah Isley (left) as the Mouse King, his brother Joshua Isley as Drosselmeyer and Damien Highfield as the Cavalier hold up cast member Kim Sulek as the Sugar “Plump” Fairy, of the Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s The Nutty Nutcracker in Munroe Falls. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

Some of the fun additions to the Nutty Nutcracker include:

  • the Sugar “Plump” Fairy (as pictured)
  • Where’s Waldo appearing in various scenes
  • Tap dancing soldier dolls in fatigues
  • The toy soldier vs. mouse battle becomes a football game…including a mouse Tebowing
  • “Natalia Notgoodenov,” the understudy filling a slot in the Snow corps…definitely a dude in a tutu
  • Lots of fart jokes
  • What does the fox say? dance in the Land of Sweets
  • Japanese sumo dance in the Land of Sweets
  • Lots of other little jokes for those that know the show really well (I have probably seen it a hundred times, including rehearsals)

Rite of Spring

I was back at Blossom over the weekend to see a joint performance of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Joffrey Ballet.  It was a wonderfully varied program, with precious little “classical” ballet.

They began with Interplay, choreographed by Jerome Robbins.  This was probably my favorite piece of the night, as it was light-hearted with colorful, fun costumes.  Next was Son of Chamber Symphony, to music by John Adams; it was pretty much what you would expect from a contemporary minimalist performance.  Then, we enjoyed the lovely Adagio set to music from Spartacus; it was choreographed on the two performers, and it showed.

After the intermission was the main event: Rite of Spring.

Joffrey Rite of Spring

This legendary ballet was first performed in 1913, and it was so revolutionary it caused a riot in the theater.  Imagine a ballet having that kind of impact today!  Nijinsky’s choreography was a dramatic break from classical ballet, using jerking movements and primal stomping.  Joffery’s reconstruction is nearly true to the original, after years of research into the original costumes, scenery, and choreography.

fantasia-dinosaurs

As for Stravinsky’s score, it was similarly revolutionary.  You have almost certainly already heard it: it was featured in Disney’s Fantasia, accompanied with scenes of prehistoric Earth and dinosaurs.  Honestly, I used to fast forward through good portions of these scenes, because they are fairly intense.  I loved dinosaurs when I was little (the stegosaurus was my favorite), so I did not relish watching them all die to frantic drumbeats.  I just tried to watch the clip on YouTube, and it still upsets me!

Childhood Fantasies

I recently stumbled across a charming little children’s story, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye.  It is not a book so much as a story; although the version I read was published as a standalone, it would fit very nicely in a compendium of modern fairy tales.

I read and enjoy a lot of fairy tales, all types: original Grimm, Disney versions, modern retellings in novel form.  In fact, I took a whole course on children’s fantasy literature in college (yay for a liberal arts education).  I also often read articles about how these tales are bad for young girls (especially Disney versions) because they encourage us to aspire to be “princesses” with no valuable qualities other than beauty (and entitlement).  I would like to think I did not, in fact, turn out that way.  (But perhaps I should add that my childhood favorite Disney movie was actually The Lion King, which lacks any pretty pretty princess stuff.)

Anyway, The Ordinary Princess gently pokes fun at “those kinds” of fairy tales by offering a protagonist who can’t help but be ordinary–this quality was a gift from a fairy at her christening.  (She also received Wit, Charm, Health, etc, but no one ever remembered those. Hey, at least it wasn’t Obedience.)  Princess Amy likes to play in the woods and make friends with squirrels, and when she runs away from home, she must get a job just like everyone else.

While the characters are certainly relatable for the reader, the plot does not venture too far outside traditional fairy tale territory, which keeps it charming and magical.  The story ends with a marriage, and unlike other current tales, has no interest in what happens after (when Amy inevitably discovers that she now has to wear nice dresses and sit in boring council meetings).

My favorite parts of the story were the tone, which is witty and droll while being simple enough for children, and the lovely illustrations placed throughout.

My childhood fantasies for my own future were amusing as well.  At various times, I thought I might want to be a nun, a ballerina, or a naturalist.  My ballet dreams were cut short by puberty when I added hips and a chest to my lack of turnout.  But I still drag my husband to The Nutcracker every Christmas, etc., so the new ABC Family dramedy “Bunheads” (by the creator of “Gilmore Girls”) caught my eye.  The pilot aired last night, and I watched the recording when I got home from work today.  I usually give a new show about 2-3 episodes to hook me, and that really will be key for this show.  I really enjoyed the pilot (characteristic machine-gun dialogue, some really likeable characters, and adequate dancing), BUT the show ended with a sudden twist that leaves me in doubt of the direction of the show.  So I’ll keep watching a few more episodes with an open mind and see where it goes.