Our Town: George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’

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What accounts for the magical appeal of The Nutcracker?

Capri has those beauteous views of the cliffs and Paris has the Left Bank to take your breath away.

So what, one might ask, does Long Island have to be enraptured by? If one tried to compare Eisenhower Park to let’s say Hyde Park in London you would be laughed out of the room.

Indeed, Europe seems to have a stranglehold on both beauty and culture but Long Islanders do have one very special thing to boast about and that thing is Lincoln Center.
The world comes to New York City to see opera, music and dance at Lincoln Center especially during the holidays and this season I decided to go see “The Nutcracker” by the New York City Ballet.
And to prove my point about the global draw of Lincoln Center I will relate to you this brief encounter. I had arrived at Lincoln Center an hour and a half too early so I had a quick soup and sandwich at Le Pain Quotidian right across from Lincoln Center.

I sat at the big wooden table and next to me was this friendly young woman who struck up a conversation with me. She was a professional pianist from Switzerland who was in town to take piano lessons from some world-famous teacher at Lincoln Center. And this evening she would be relaxing by going to the opera there.

As I said, the world comes to New York to experience Lincoln Center.
Shortly after my soup and sandwich was consumed I made my way over to the David H. Koch Center, took my seat in the orchestra section and looked around me.

This was opening night to The Nutcracker and the house was sold out. Despite this being a ballet for kids, the audience was 75 percent adults. And in case you have not studied up on “The Nutcracker” let me give you a brief history.
The ballet was choreographed by Petipa and Ivanov in St Petersburgh back in 1892 and was based upon the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by ETA Hoffmann with music was by Tchaikovsky.

Like almost all great works of art, when it was first seen it was neither embraced by audiences or critics and soon disappeared without a whimper.
However 62 years later in 1954 George Balanchine breathed new charm into it and since that time this ballet, which combines classicism with pure innocence has become the most popular ballet in the world, danced by virtually every major ballet company.
The reason for its universal popularity is because it employs adorable children who can dance, a Christmas tree that grows through the ceiling, very fat mice, 16 ballerinas in ¾ length white tutus who dance in the snow and a human-sized nutcracker with a broken jaw.
Unlike most of Balanchine’s classics such as “Serenade,” “Jewels” or “Concerto Barocco,” this piece has an understandable storyline that centers upon a sweet little girl who loves her nutcracker doll so well that the doll comes to life.
There are many stories in our culture that use the metaphor of an object becoming real. “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi is the story of a wooden puppet who finally becomes real with the help of the Blue Fairy. Pinocchio is now a cultural icon and the most reimagined character in children’s literature.

“The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams is the beloved children’s book about a doll rabbit who is loved into life thanks to a little boy and a magic fairy’s kiss.
Stephen Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film “Artificial Intelligence” is really a futuristic version of Pinocchio where a humanoid robot desires to become a real boy to experience the love of a mother.
During this holiday season, there is growing evidence that The Nutcracker is becoming another cultural icon on a par with Pinocchio.

I spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s home and on the wall in the living room is a picture of “The Nutcracker” ballet. We had Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant and a large statue of the nutcracker doll was in the lobby of the restaurant. And when they put up decorations in the park across from my office in Williston Park this week they will once again put two large nutcracker dolls next to the Christmas tree.
The image of the nutcracker doll, a wooden toy that comes to life, is now a mythic part of our life. The popularity of the ballet is a testament to our need for magic, our desire for rebirth and our hope that a sweet spring will follow our dark winter.

There is no better way to find some lightness of being during the holidays than to treat yourself and your family to Lincoln Center and George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”
We may not be Capri and we may not be Paris but we are New York, a place that is home to the finest ballet company on earth.

Bravo to each and every dancer on stage. You all make dancing in the snow a thing of beauty, ease and magic. Winter makes us all feel wooden and cold and this ballet enables both adults and kids to feel some sunshine again, even if it does get dark by 5 p.m.

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