Movie review: The Nutcracker (1977)

I continue to seek the magic that I experienced in a production of The Nutcracker performed by a professional ballet troupe and professional symphony several years ago. So far I have been not found it.

This film version of The Nutcracker left me wanting, perhaps because of the nature of the medium. Live performances are vastly different—they are richer sensory experiences. The sights and sounds are deeper and more immediate. You are closer to the action and music and acted upon by the ambiance that a live performance creates.

In this film version, I was delighted to hear the full score of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. However, the music couldn’t wash over me like music performed by live symphonies. The dancing was superb. (Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland danced the roles of the Nutcracker/Prince and Clare, respectively.)

My favorite bits in the ballet? Probably the death of the Mouse King and the Dance of the Snowflakes. The Nutcracker battles the mice and their king, fatally stabbing the latter. Upon the mortal blow, the Mouse King invariably—in whatever production of The Nutcracker is being performed—strike a pose of rigor mortis. He dies on his back with his legs bent in the air. His mice underlings carry him away still in this pose.

The Dance of the Snowflakes is a beautiful, choreographed dance in a forest with snow softly falling. The dancers are dressed in white costumes and float silently to Tchaikovsky’s haunting music.

I also like the Arabian dancers in the Land of Sweets. They are one among several dancers from around the world. Honestly, except for the Chinese and Russian dancers, I had difficulty distinguishing the different dancers in this production of The Nutcracker. And the storyline in the Land of Sweets seemed different than what I was used to. (Productions of the Nutcracker vary with different interpretations of the ballet.)

I’ll keep looking for a performance of The Nutcracker reminiscent of the one that I enjoyed so much. After several decades, the professional troupe that performed my favorite rendition of the ballet has sadly folded. Perhaps one of these years I can catch a traveling professional ballet company teaming up with a professional symphony—and be moved by the magic.

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