Question: Why are all American ballet companies obsessed with this dusty, old, broken ballet?
Answer: Money. Memories. Mundanity.
I want to preface with what I left off in (PART 1):
Dance isn’t just ballet.
Ballet isn’t just The Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker doesn’t make the holiday season.
That being said, this challenge was actually a bit of a struggle. Halfway in I realized sections of the score are in my 8tracks. I caught glimpses of Sugar pas and Snow all over the Internet. I didn’t go out to see any dance performances in December, Nut obviously included. And my good friends at HB and dancers I admire around the world kept posting these beautiful and hilarious pics/vids on IG (see below for my favs).
Thank you @jennifer.garner !! 😊🎄✨ #Nutcracker #Sugarplum (📹 from guesting @newenglanddanceensemble) #Repost @jennifer.garner ・・・ 🔊 Sound on. There is so much to say about @abtofficial’s poetic @gillianemurphy but–‘tis the season!– and today I just want to thank Gillian, @mbhoven and all of #ABT for bringing #TheNutcracker to life for my kids and me. Merry, Merry Christmas! #TutuTuesday #😿💔 —– 📹: @beautiful_ballerinas
I’ve contemplated The Nutcracker all December and into the new year and I’ve come to a conclusion. Yes, for me it’s dull AF and hell for the dancers and ridiculously outdated (even with those too-little-too-late “adjustments” to the Chinese variation at NYCB). BUT it’s also quite special for many reasons for many people.
I can’t ignore that it’s a major performance factor for many families. I guess my main issue with this ballet and the whole marketing cash-cow campaign season built around it is that it often times leads to nothing else before and after itself.
Casual audiences might get the itch to go see another story ballet, your lavish Sleeping Beautys and romantic Romeo and Juliets. Great. But 9/10 they aren’t going to become well-rounded dance audiences, expanding outwards to different genres/companies/etc let alone the mixed reps and student/choreographer workshops from that same company. They stay stuck in the Nut because ballet companies (not to mention the holiday-obsessed, consumer-driven media; case-in-point that silly Disney live-action Nutcracker trailer that dropped during the holidays…) demand they stay stuck in the Nut.
Nut brings a sense of expectations from all over that help keep ballet afloat, not just financially. The largest amount of promotions within a company in a single month usually occur during a Nut season. So, dancers are almost always ready and willing to jump into roles for the chance of a promotion, cause it does happen every single year in bulk.
Families come because they know what to expect from various productions, and for families across the nation, especially during this HIGHLY violate political situation, mundanity is important. Tradition obsessed grandparents are happy. Wiggling kids are enchanted. Adults can get hammered at the bar during intermission and sleep through Act II. Everyone kinda wins at a Nut performance.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been harsh on you, Nutcracker. But things are changing in the ballet world right now, so you better shape up and change with the times. A few make-up and costume edits aren’t going to cut it in the long run. Now is the time to be radical again, even with the most traditional of story ballets! Look to companies who are really striving for the best of everything within this ballet, like Brooklyn Ballet’s production! Give different dance genres the chance to shine alongside ballet! Example, I’ve always dreamed of a ballet company whole-heartedly partnering with Shen Yun, helping each other promote two spectacular dance performances! Or maybe actually getting dancers of Shen Yun into Nut‘s Chinese variation with their own choreography then getting ballet dancers teaching Shen Yun dancers different styles of ballet in return??? Imagine that collaboration! That’s one of ballet’s inclusion and community problems solved…
Also, major ballet companies MUST lower their fucking ticket costs (for all seating options, not just the nosebleeds “commoner” sections) during Nut performances. I guarantee you’ll see a better, more diverse, and inspired turn-out in the audience. This always makes me think of that episode of The L Word when self-help TOE founder guy Benjamin Bradshaw advised Kit to raise the price of The Planet’s pear polenta tarts (woah, that’s a long shot reference FTW). Kit was super hesitant, but she did it and some people complained but she saw a huge return on the sales. Major ballet companies of the world, do the opposite of this! (And I say major because I know local/regional companies legit can’t afford to lower ticket prices during any production run. The major companies, your ABTs and SFBs, are too proud and dramatic to admit that they can, in fact, afford to dip a few dollars in the good seats, but won’t cause the economy?)
Oh, and major ballet companies, for the love of your dancers, stop prolonging the season from Thanksgiving into the new year! Make it short and sweet, well-designed and choreographically interesting. There are those who WILL always preserve past productions based on principle, so there’s really no need to fear the loss of this ballet’s tradition. This is the 21st century, we have DVD preservation of all the major Nuts and if companies won’t lower ticket costs and everything, the DVDs work just as well for so many large, low-income families, like my own. We should have variety, not a monopoly of just one company/choreographer/designer’s “vision.” (*Balanchine shade*)
So that’s that.
Happy new year.