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“The production was a vibrant piece of theater… Cassandra Lund as the Sugar Plum Fairy was thoroughly captivating. Paired with Vadim Solomakha as her cavalier, Lund was radiant… their beaming expressions were infectious. Equally elegant were Chie Kudo and Hugo Carreon as the Snow Queen and King… a heavenly match… a breathtaking highlight in Act I. The nucleus of the production was the San Diego Symphony playing Tchaikovsky’s imaginative score, and the dancers didn’t just dance to it, they embraced it… The live orchestra, directed by John Stubbs was impeccable…” – Kris Eitland, sandiego.com
Act I: It is Christmas Eve; rich Mr. Stahlbaum is giving a party for his children, Clara and Fritz. Mr. Drosselmeyer arrives bringing presents and amuses the children with mechanical dolls. To Clara he gives a nutcracker in the shape of a toy soldier. The spiteful Fritz breaks it, but Drosselmeyer mends it at once. The party goes on, grown-ups and children enjoying themselves, until Clara falls asleep, clutching her present, and dreams. Magically the room grows larger and, at a sign from Drosselmeyer, the toys come alive. The tin soldiers parade, but suddenly an army of mice led by their King burst out of the cellars and battle begins, in which the toys, despite the Nutcracker’s valor, are defeated. The Nutcracker stands alone, defying the mice, but the magician Drosselmeyer comes to the rescue, handing Clara a lighted candle with which she puts the mice to flight, while the Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince.
Act II: The night sky clears to reveal a host of stars; snowflakes fall and Clara with her Prince embarks on a magic boat. In a kingdom of Christmas trees, candies, and cakes, Clara’s party becomes a marvelous divertissement after the Prince has finally defeated the Mouse King in a duel. It has all been a dream, but Clara wakes up with her Nutcracker and remembers her wonderful adventure.
The Nutcracker ballet was inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King published in 1819 in the Serapion Brethien. In the original it is a fairy story not without “black” implications, wherein the fantasies of childhood blend with the dark side of the unconscious. Clara’s dream expresses her wish to see in the grotesque toy a handsome Prince who will love her and take her with him. Then it is invaded by evil spirits (mice and bats) or by the nocturnal fears aroused in children by the threatening world of darkness. All the characters display a well-defined duplicity, starting with Drosselmeyer (a more refined relation of Dr. Coppelius, another of Hoffmann’s creations), who is at once the family friend who loves children and a conjurer of magic manifestations. If the figure of the Nutcracker-Prince whose transfiguration is caused by others’ wishes for identification is fairly simply explained, the image of Clara lends itself to more complex inquiries. She is, in fact, a child expressing a desire to be a grown woman: her story is a premonition of what is to come, but it is made clear that it will not be easy or always pleasant to reach the fruits she wants to pluck. The world around her is indeed silly and frivolous and even unpleasant (her brother’s spite), so that the only way to attain happiness, after overcoming fearful ordeals, is in dreams. This implication ends by distorting the Christmas fairy tale of Petipa’s imagination, and leaves the way open for endless interpretations and modifications. It is the psychological approach of modern choreographers that prevails, however.
CALIFORNIA BALLET’S ADAPTATION OF THE NUTCRACKER appeals to the child in all of us. Choreographed by Maxine Mahon, the enormous cast usually reaches 200 including many children from the California Ballet School ranging in ages from 4 to 14. Mahon’s choreography strengthens the story line: “I created Clara as an older child, a pre-teen, who is beginning to daydream about love.” “Drosselmeyer’s nephew is presented as the object of Clara’s interest. When she dreams, he becomes the Nutcracker Prince. The Prince escorts Clara through the Snow Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Sweets,” adds Mahon.
REFERENCE: The Simon & Schuster Book of the Ballet A Complete Reference Guide 1581 to Present