There aren’t many Christmas-themed productions that attract such a loyal following as The Nutcracker.
After more than 100 years, Tchaikovsky’s stunning musical score, set against the story of an epic battle between mice and toy soldiers, still draws holiday crowds. Over the past several years, it’s turned into a sparkling annual tradition at Red Deer College as well.
Performances run Dec. 18th at 7 p.m., Dec. 19th at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 20th at 1:30 p.m. on the College Arts Centre mainstage.
The Nutcracker is based on a book called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, published by German writer E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816. Hoffman, a German writer, composer, caricaturist, and painter was known for his stories in which supernatural characters reveal people’s hidden secrets.
Of course, there’s the elegant score written by Russian composer Tchaikovsky as well. He began work on the project in early 1892 before beginning a tour of the United States, completing it later that summer.
As to the story, Clara receives a cherished nutcracker from her mysterious Uncle Drosselmier.
After everyone has gone to bed for the evening, strange things begin to happen. Clara watches as rats and soldiers battle for victory. She is guided through falling snow and taken to the Land of Sweets where sweets from around the world dance in her honour.
Many versions of the story have been published as children’s books, and it’s been said that in his stories Hoffmann combined wild flights of imagination with vivid and convincing examinations of human character and psychology.
As a ballet, The Nutcracker made its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in December of 1892.
“I started with the production in 1999 but have been directing it since 2002,” explains Director Tania Strader of the local production at RDC. “I love directing The Nutcracker every year because it is as traditional as the Christmas tree – I love Christmas and the spirit surrounding it, which includes the ballet.”
Strader said the classic production continues to draw audiences because of a sense of ‘timelessness’ about it. Plus, it’s just intrinsically magical.
“Although the story remains relatively the same, it is the small differences that keep it new, fresh, and exciting,” she added. “This production is special because of so many things – the cast is made up of mainly children under the age of 18, we rehearse for almost four months and become what we call our ‘nutty’ family, and it is a different experience than your regular dance lessons. Here they take what they have learned and apply it to become a character!”
Strader added this year, she has taken the story back to its origins but added a few modern day twists as well.
“I feel that a lot is happening in the world today that creating a tradition with clean foundations is so important,” she said. “There is so much hustle and bustle these days, it is nice to go back to a simpler time when kids could be kids.”
According to dance.about.com, the first showing of The Nutcracker didn’t go over particularly well.
“Even though Czar Alexander III was delighted with the ballet, The Nutcracker was not an instant success. However, the ballet gained popularity with future productions, especially in the United States.
“The first performance of The Nutcracker in the United States was by the San Francisco Opera Ballet, in 1944. The production was directed by William Christensen. However, by changing a few characters, choreographer George Balanchine brought new life to The Nutcracker.
“His 1954 production for the New York City Ballet popularized the ballet, establishing it as a holiday tradition.”
Meanwhile, Strader said on the local front, audiences can expect some new costumes, a new set, and some new dancers.
There are also about 70 local dancers and some adult volunteers creating the magic this year.
“I love kids. I love seeing their excitement build through the rehearsal process until they are overflowing with joy in December,” she added. “I love that they are heartbroken after we close the curtain after the final show but are counting down the next day to coming back the following fall. Every fall I am excited to see who has made the choice to join our family; every year we have dancers who are joining for the first time and we have dancers who are back for another magical season.
“Although not knowing who will join us each year is hard, I enjoy the challenge of taking who I get and creating a ballet around them. Some years we have a younger cast, sometimes an older cast, so each year I modify the placement of dancers, change the choreography and reinterpret the story to fit the cast.”
Tickets for all performances are available through the Black Knight Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or by visiting www.bkticketcentre.ca.
Meanwhile, Strader is hopeful the show will provide the ideal means of stirring up a generous dose of the Christmas spirit.
“I hope the audiences are comforted in the tradition of The Nutcracker and leave with an overall feeling of excitement and joy in their hearts!”