I’ve always thought of The Nutcracker as the gateway drug for ballet. It hooks you when you’re young, all candy confection and delicacy, with just enough undercurrent of budding sensuality and danger to appeal. Once smitten by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her tasty treats, it’s only a matter of time before The Red Shoes are dancing you unwillingly to the train tracks, or the Black Swan is bewitching you to your doom.
Okay, that’s a bit much! But I was reared on the filmed version of Baryshnikov’s magical American Ballet Theatre production, before I knew the sad backstory of Gelsey Kirkland, before my beloved ballet teacher damned my dreams of being a baby ballerina with the exasperated sigh, “She simply has no turnout.” I can still hum Tchaikovsky’s score almost in entirety. So yes, even a lovely children’s dream ballet like The Nutcracker can bring me to tears.
Septime Webre’s version for the Washington Ballet and its school, playing at the Warner Theater now through December 26, is a local holiday tradition that I experienced for the first time this year. The audience was a mix of nostalgic adults like me, and children brought to experience that heady gateway drug. The visual aspect of the production is perfect – the traditional story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, their battle against the wicked Rat King and their trip to the fairy kingdom, lovingly portrayed against the backdrop of Victorian Washington with relatively uncomplicated choreography well executed by a multigenerational cast of talented dancers. It’s a great introduction to the joys of ballet.
Except for one flaw. A flaw that breaks my heart, for what is says about the future of live performance and an art form that struggles to survive in economic distress.
Taped music. Continue reading