Every year, around this time, performances of “The Nutcracker” pop up across the world, and many families make it an annual tradition to see the famous ballet.
For the people who see the performance each year, there is no question as to why. But for those who have not been exposed to the experience, Alan Hineline, CEO of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, said it lets people escape into what the holidays are about.
“I think it’s part of all our holidays because it brings to life the fantasy that we all have about what Christmas is and can be,” he said. “It paints this very, very heartwarming, romantic picture of what the holidays are really about.”
The two-act ballet was adapted from a story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The performance premiered with music by Tchaikovsky in the late 1800s in St. Petersburg, Russia, according to the Moscow Ballet. “The Nutcracker” suite was the only well-received part at first, but about 100 years later, the entire performance became popular. It has since been performed by ballet schools and companies across the world, the company said.
While the ballet is performed year-round in Europe, performances of “The Nutcracker” are largely scheduled near Christmastime, Hineline said.
“It’s like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade ... it’s become a tradition, and it’s a strong holiday tradition,” Hineline said. “It paints a picture of the pre-technology days of Christmas, where people gathered around and socialized and families were really together. It’s about a really American experience.”
CPYB performs the George Balanchine version of “The Nutcracker” each year, with the steps exactly the same as the choreographer wanted them. CPYB is the only pre-professional ballet school allowed to use his choreography, which is taught to students by a special instructor.
However, there are other versions performed in the Midstate.
Victoria Silva, school director at Pennsylvania Regional Ballet in Enola, said the school performs “The Nutcracker” every year. Their performance is based off of the first version, as well as the one the Royal Ballet performs, but the school has also developed a lot of its own choreography. She says they adapt it a little bit each year.
Silva said she believes there are so many variations on the story and choreography because it gives people options and a way to make the ballet a little different each year.
“(There are) other organizations like our own, (where) we’ve just kind of developed our own choreography over the years, and pick and choose from certain things that we liked,” Silva said. “I think it’s for audience feel, so it’s not always the same every year.”
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Jennifer Turner Long, the owner of The Studio in Enola, said this year is the first time they will be performing “The Nutcracker.”
While the studio followed the original story of the ballet, Turner Long said they did a lot of their own choreography. She said she believes people want to be able to put their own mark on it.
“Even though our choreography might be a little different ... we want folks to be familiar with the story, so we don’t want it to be so different that they don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I think that’s part of what makes ‘The Nutcracker’ timeless, too. Dancers are artists, choreographers are artists, and they want to make it unique and special.”
There are variations for a number of reasons, but Hineline said he believes one of the biggest reasons is because there is significant brand recognition when a company or school says they are performing “The Nutcracker.” He said people can go to different regions in the country and there will be twists to the story and the way it is choreographed.
Hineline said the story is in the public domain, so people are able to take artistic license when they perform “The Nutcracker.” However, the Balanchine version requires permission from the Balanchine Trust to be able to use the choreography.
A ‘magical’ experience
Silva said the ballet is set at a Christmas party to start, so people associate it with the holidays. She said starting off the season with the magic of “The Nutcracker” has become a holiday tradition for so many people. For families to be able to bring their children to a performance where there is live music and dancing is an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day, Silva said.
“It’s a very wonderful experience to come and be able to be a part of that,” Silva said. “And to come to a theater and have that experience as a child, or even an adult, it just takes you to a different place. It’s a different world.”
Hineline agreed, saying his favorite part about putting together “The Nutcracker” is watching how enamored the children are during and after the performance. He said it’s a great opportunity to expose children to music, theater and dance that’s not too long and is interesting to watch.
The ballet is a timeless story, Turner Long said, which is why she thinks the story has survived such a long time. She said it brings out the imagination in children and allows them to get into the spirit of the holiday season.
“It’s magical,” she said. “It kind of carries you away — every child’s fantasy is a land of sweets — and as an adult you remember that. It’s just a very beautiful thing, and it gives you appreciation for some peace and some joy out of the hustle and bustle that often accompanies the holidays. For an hour or two you forget what you haven’t done yet, and you’re kind of carted away to a magical place.”