A Christmas classic
Written by John Millen
A magical adventure A snowy forest, a warm fire blazing away, magical presents, a magnificent Christmas tree and a giant house made of gingerbread. What more could you want at Christmas? All these things and more can be found in the ballet The Nutcracker. This dance classic is part of Christmas every year in theatres all over the world. Once you have seen it, you will know why. It is the definitive Christmas entertainment, and delights audiences of all ages who fall under its spell.
The first Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet set to music by the famous Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The show premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on December 18, 1892. It is difficult to believe now, but the original production was a bit of a flop. Critics thought the dancing was heavy and boring, but Tchaikovsky did not care.
He put together a 20-minute piece of music using parts of the ballet score. This concert piece became very popular. Forgetting the flop of the first production, other ballet companies began to stage new versions of the full Nutcracker, and the show took off.
It is now performed regularly by ballet companies everywhere, and parts of the music ring out in shopping malls every Christmas. What Tchaikovsky would have thought of this is anyone's guess!
Clara's Christmas Eve
It is Christmas Eve, and Clara, her brother Fritz and her parents are getting the house ready for a big party. They decorate their grand living room with wreaths, stockings, glass baubles, mistletoe and a beautiful Christmas tree. Guests arrive and the festivities begin.
One of the guests is the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, the local toymaker. He has brought with him four life-sized dolls to give to the children.
He also gives Clara a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man.
But Fritz breaks the nutcracker, and Clara puts it under the tree to be mended later. The party ends, the guests leave, and the children go to bed.
A night of magic
During the night, Clara sneaks back into the living room to take another look at the broken nutcracker. She falls asleep under the Christmas tree. Suddenly, the room is filled with fighting mice and gingerbread soldiers. The nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince, who leads Clara into a snowy pine forest.
This is just the beginning of a night of adventure and magic as the prince and Clara travel to the Land of Sweets and meet all sorts of fantastic, Christmassy characters. It's all over the top of course, but then it is Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when magic really can happen.
True or false
Which of these statements about The Nutcracker are true and which are false?
1 The Nutcracker is a French opera.
2 The story takes place at Christmas.
3 The story centres around a boy called Fritz.
4 The Nutcracker had its premiere in New York.
5 The show's music is by Russian composer Tchaikovsky.
6 The Nutcracker has a realistic storyline and characters.
7 The show had a very successful production in Russia in 1892.
8 The Nutcracker is a favourite in theatres all over the world at Christmas.
The Nutcracker will be performed by the Hong Kong Ballet at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, from December 16 to 26
Answers: 1. f, 2. t, 3. f, 4. f, 5. t, 6. f, 7. f, 8. t