Monday, 24 October 2016

A Dark Side to The Nutcracker?

Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume sketch for The Nutcracker
Source Wikipediadia

The dark side of Giselle is obvious with its ghosts of jilted girls or laid-off garment workers. Christopher Hampson's Hansel and Gretel is a bit gruesome with the witch being tumbled into a furnace. Even Swan Lake is a bit dodgy with Siegfried's jumping into the lake. But The Nutcracker is alright surely with its divertissements, Sugar Plum Fairy and girls singing "La, la, la, la, la" in the Snowflakes scene.

Well maybe not if Margaret Fleming-Makarian is correct. She  has written and published a 161-page treatise called The Original Nutcracker Ballet - A Hidden Allegory in which she argues that there are hidden meanings in the work. According to John Riley who has reviewed her work in the summer 2015 Digest of the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies
"These include postEnlightenment ‘rationalisations’ of the human body as automata, early attempts at dream interpretation and comparative religion’s analysis of pagan, Christian and occult symbolism."
He continues:
"the major theme is early nineteenth-century Napoleonic expansionism, and the resultant pan-European upheavals and changes in society and geopolitical power, particularly the German–French–Russian relationship."
Now this may not be so strange as it seems as Russia was undergoing a period of rapid economic and social change at the end of the 19th century with the emergence of a new class of manufacturers and merchants. That phenomenon was a theme of many English and French novels of the time and it would not be unreasonable to expect it in some other art form elsewhere in Europe. It is certainly the case that Drosselmeyer like Rothbart and Carabosse are outsiders. Rothbart disguises himself as a wealthy merchant when he presents Odile to the princely court. Are the magician and witch in The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty code for the manufacturers who disrupted the existing order with their factories and technologies based on steam and steel?

Well, perhaps, and then again perhaps not but there will be an opportunity to hear Ms Fleming-Makarian and to explore and test her arguments on the 25 Nov at 19:00 when she will discuss The Hidden Allegory of Tchaikovsky's 'The Nutcracker' in a talk to the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies at 320 Brixton Road, London, SW9 6AB. The venue is served by the 3, 59, 133, 159 and 415 bus routes and the nearest underground stations are Brixton and the Oval.

According to the Society's website:
"Margaret Fleming-Markarian spent her professional life teaching dance. Now retired, she researches the classic ballets, drawing upon her practical experience, as well as early training at the Benesh Institute of Choreology, and academic education in European and Art History at the University of Edinburgh. Centring her research on the Sergeev choreographic scores in the Harvard Theatre Collection and the Royal Academy of Dance Library in London, she seeks to build a meaningful visual context for the original classic choreographies through their original designs and sets preserved in St Petersburg."
For those who want simply to dance The Nutcracker  Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy will teach an intensive workshop for KNT in the studios of the Northern Ballet School in Manchester on 28 and 29 Oct 2016 (see A Unique Opportunity to learn a Bit of The Nutcracker 12 Oct 2016). The last I heard was that the Saturday class for beginners is full though there may be vacancies through cancellations and there is still room in the advanced class on Friday.

If you just want to see The Nutcracker, the Royal Ballet will dance it at Covent Garden between 23 Nov 2016 and 12 Jan 2017 (see Royal Opera House's website), the English National Ballet at Milton Keynes, Liverpool and London between the 23 Nov 2016 and 7 Jan 2017 (see English National Ballet's website), Birmingham Royal Ballet in Birmingham between the 25 Nov and the 13 Dec 2016 (see Birmingham Royal Ballet's website) and the Ballet Ireland are taking it on tour to Coleraine, Newtonabbey, Cookstown and Enniskillen as well as many venues in the Republic of Ireland between 5 Nov  and 23 Dec 2016 (see the company's website). There is also a students' production of Act II by pupils of the Danceworks International Ballet Academy in London on 12 and 13 Dec 2016.

For background information and links to other resources on The Nutcracker visit my page on the ballet.

PS. I am very grateful to Colman Reilly for tweetng that the Irish National Youth Ballet will dance The Nutcracker at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, between the 9 and 11 Dec 2016. That is the handiest possible venue for visitors from Liverpool and North Wales and it is not too far from any part of Northern Ireland.

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