Four Nutcrackers in one weekend turned out to be a treat beyond expectations.
The Nutcracker first appeared in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1892, music by Tchaikovsky, choreographic plan by Marius Petipa based on a story by E.T.A Hoffmann.
A poetic narrative of childhood, the music's dramatic movement and imagery and hidden meanings appeal to people on different levels. It begins with a party and quickly moves into a succession of battles, journeys, changes of seasons and fairy tale events. This may explain The Nutcracker's popularity and its association as a Christmastime classic.
IU Ballet Theater and Butler Ballet are probably closest to showing a mood of anxiety and anticipation to match the music. IU's is a more realistic relationship between Clara and Fritz, and Drosselmeyer is both a man of mystery and perception. He first offers the nutcracker to Fritz, who disdains it, until Clara takes it. Butler's Drosselmeyer is a more vindictive, almost nasty character, who teases and punishes.
At IU, Butler and Central Indiana Dance Ensemble, Clara's dream is within her experiences as a child of the 19th century. Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre moves this concept into the late 20th century. His Klara is homeless. Her tug-of-war is with society. Her magic is the kindness of a stranger. Her food dream is from hunger, not an overabundance of sweets. She dreams of nationalities living within the neighborhood.
CIDE makes certain we get the association between desserts and dream with the addition of a baker who ushers in the next divertissement. He provided an element of whimsy, though it might have been a better connection if a butler had been bringing those trays into the Act 1 party scene.
Spectacle through setting, lighting, costumes and surprises are strong in all four productions, as is the dancing. GHDT and CIDE featured outstanding teen-age male dancers as the Nutcracker Prince. IU's and Butler's dance academies showcased young boys who are potential contenders for leading roles. In an area of the country where being a boy and a dancer are not part of the community psyche, this is promising.
Throughout, student dancers at IU and Butler proved the next generation of professional dancers is on its way, while GHDT and CIDE open possibilities for younger dancers to explore a career option. Watching the dancers move into the next level of roles over a number of years is the real joy of an abundance of Nutcrackers.
Perhaps most illuminating for this audience member was being in the moment of near perfection delivered by American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno as guest artists for Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier at IU. Their partnering epitomize the transformative power of dance as conceived by Tchaikovsky. Nutcracker, underneath the spectacle, is a story both about the destiny of the characters and a poetic reflection of their spirit. The ideal of seamless, soaring happiness is possible.