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Home / Articles / Archive / Arts & Entertainment /  Dance | ?Nutcracker Sucks!? ?Nutcracker Rocks!?: Dueling dancers clash over the merits of a Christmas tradition.
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Dance | ?Nutcracker Sucks!? ?Nutcracker Rocks!?: Dueling dancers clash over the merits of a Christmas tradition.

Posted // December 3,2008 - Editor’s Note: As Ballet West mounts its annual holiday production of The Nutcracker, we asked two trained dancers to debate its pros and cons. n

 

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Rachel Hanson: If you think not seeing The Nutcracker this season means you’ve escaped its annoyances, you’re wrong. Tchaikovsky’s score will be played constantly on the radio, while you’re on hold, in stores and at lame family dinners when Grandma just has to hear “Waltz of the Flowers” one more time. For those of you who do join the masses every holiday season to enjoy the sweetness of the Sugar Plum Fairy, take note: With that sweetness comes bestiality. If the Rat King’s attempted rape of Clara doesn’t do it for you, don’t worry; there’s always the Arabian Coffee divertissement, which offers a theme of female sexual objectification for your viewing pleasure.

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Jenny Poplar: [Drippping sarcasm] Listening to the work of one of the greatest composers who ever lived is such torture. Screw the live orchestra—I’d much rather stay at home and listen to my copy of Willie Nelson’s Christmas album. And we all know the holidays are all about political correctness. Forget about ornate costumes, painstaking choreography that requires hours of practice, and the legion of young dancers who have the rare chance to participate in a full-scale professional production! Let’s replace Nutcracker with a protest. Maybe Gloria Steinem will show up to hand out candy canes. Or are candy canes are too phallic?

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RH: I’d take a candy cane from Gloria any day! Even if they’re phallic, at least you eventually get to bite down on them, which could be interpreted as sweet irony.

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Back to The Nutcracker: I can appreciate Tchaikovsky’s genius, but I don’t want to listen to it throughout the holiday season any more than I’d want to listen to any other genius composer every day for two months out of the year. I’d have fewer issues—but still plenty—with The Nutcracker if it weren’t the predominant ballet choice for every holiday season.

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JP: What do you propose instead of The Nutcracker? A ballet version of Jesus Christ Superstar with Santa Claus hats? The holidays aren’t about innovation; they’re about tradition. Save all your radical thinking for the month of January when you don’t have to appease your conservative relatives over honey-baked ham. I’ve seen The Nutcracker 24 times, because my mom has seen it 44 times. The Christmas season simply is not complete in our family—and many other families—without it.

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RH: I wonder if people would be so intrigued by The Nutcracker if more ballet companies stayed true to the original and much darker-themed story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” by E.T.A. Hoffman. Alas, innovation took over and now we have the “traditional” Nutcracker, a mere adaptation of Hoffman’s work.

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I also don’t understand why I have to shut off my “nontraditional” mind any time of the year, including December. An alternative ballet—not theater, as you suggested—could be anything. Maybe The Snow Queen—or, better yet, something that makes people think outside the realm of fast food and shallow entertainment.

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JP: Live performance art always makes people think outside the realm of fast food and shallow entertainment, even if the themes are “simple.” The Nutcracker requires months of hard work and preparation from so many different people; a production on this scale is the opposite of shallow. I’m all about spooky stuff, but I think the Christmas season is essentially about deferring to Grandma’s fruitcake—especially in times like this, when there’s so much turmoil affecting people’s daily lives. Enjoying a little bit of conventional, fluffy escapism now and then doesn’t make one a Philistine.

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RH: The Nutcracker is an artistic version of the everyday fluff we see on television, in commercial magazines and in Hollywood films. The art world has a responsibility to reach beyond The Nutcracker not only fails, it annoys. People work hard on productions all the time, but that doesn’t make them inherently meaningful. shallowness, and

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Let’s face it: The real reason ballet companies perform The Nutcracker year after painful year is the tickets they sell. Fruitcake-loving conservatives will swarm in droves to see it, and the money they shell out will fund interesting ballets that they’ll never bother to see. Ballets like Ghost Dances, which I attended twice in one Ballet West performance run, both times disappointed to find the audience was pathetically meager.

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JP: The art world also has a responsibility to entertain. Please consider some of those “fruitcake-loving conservatives” have stressful, emotionally draining jobs or situations in their lives. If your job is to administer chemotherapy to terminally ill cancer patients, can you really be faulted for choosing The Nutcracker over Ghost Dances? Especially during the holiday season? Not embracing a work of art with heavy themes doesn’t mean that someone is shallow or conservative; perhaps it simply means the said person needs a little escapism.

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And why complain about a production that foots the bill for more daring work year round? I say we applaud Ballet West for offering us such variety. I’d rather see Ballet West cater to Granny than go under.

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THE NUTCRACKER
nCapitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, 355-2787, Dec. 5-27,
BalletWest.org

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