I’m quite the novice when it comes to ballet, much like musical theater. Given the holiday season, I decided to take the plunge with my wife and go see The Nutcracker, as performed by Phoenix Ballet (Ballet Arizona), at the incredibly beautiful Orpheum theater in Downtown Phoenix. I went into the performance knowing next to nothing about it, aside from a few songs and that it involved dancing.
Since there is no dialogue, you have to intuit what’s going on based on actions and movement. At times, there is an overwhelming amount of people on stage, so at the start, it was a bit of a sensory overload. Once you get used to that, then it becomes easier to follow. I had my own running interpretation going and I would like to compare that to what the program told me was going on.
ME: An old steampunk grandpa prepares automata for some party. The entire town, apparently, goes to this party (or, at least the richest of them). Kids dance, adults dance, and steampunk grandpa wows them all with his wizardry. He gives the young girl of the house a nutcracker, which her jerk brother breaks immediately. Party’s over! She then has a fever dream where smoke shoots out of everything and she watches her nutcracker kill the Rat King. He lost his Nutcracker head, but now has a nice human head, which he uses to whisk her away to… somewhere? And now we’re watching ice people dance. End Act I.
PROGRAM: Drosselmeyer is the workshop master, and he’s getting ready for the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Party. Clara, and her little brother Fritz, enjoy the party with everyone. Drosselmeyer arrives with his automata, but Clara is frightened by them. Instead of having them continue, he presents her with a nutcracker, which Fritz immediately becomes jealous of, steals, and breaks. The adults fix him and the party dies down and ends. Clara is in the living room at Midnight and witnesses her godfather in the shape of the Mouse King! She tries to escape but his mice stop her. The Nutcracker appears with Fritz’s toy soldier and stops the mice. Mortally wounded, Clara kisses the Nutcracker and he turns into a prince! They ride a sleigh into Clara’s garden where angels dance for them. Drosselmeyer shows up and introduces them to the Sugar Plum Fairy (Clara’s maid) and her Cavalier (Drosselmeyer’s assistant).
ME: Steampunk grandpa returns to bust a move and entertain everyone again! For some reason, we’re now in Spring, and the story is thrown out the window! We’re now visited by World Showcase in Epcot, including the greatest hits of Spain, China, Russia, and a neatly non-descript area of the Middle East. The Sugar Plum fairy dances. A small army of people in red dance. The Nutcracker and the little girl dance maybe once or twice before deciding to peace out. The girl wakes up in her bed: It was all a dream!
PROGRAM: Flower Fairies arrive from all over the world to dance for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, all of whom look suspiciously like the dolls the girls received at the Christmas party earlier. The Flower Queen comes out with her flowers to meet them as well, followed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, who rule the magical garden. Much merriment is had by all! Clara wakes in her bed with her Nutcracker toy in her arms. She looks around warily for mice, and seeing that it is safe, and thinking it was all a wonderful dream, she dances one last time with her Nutcracker before retiring to bed once more.
The Nutcracker Review
Ballet Arizona’s performance of the Nutcracker is ranked in the top three in the nation, so expectations were pretty high going in. As stated earlier, I’m not a very experienced ballet guy: This is only my second viewing of ballet and my first viewing of a proper show. The set pieces were amazing: There was some trippy forced perspective going on at points in the first act that were greatly appreciated. The costumes were great, too: Victorian dresses, traditional garb, and lots and lots of unitards and skirts. Overall, as a non-ballet person, this performance was pretty accessible. I liked the first act better because it had a stronger story focus, but I think the second act tries to make up for the lack of story with sheer athleticism and impressive choreography.
If you have the time and means to do so, I’d say try and see it live! I definitely felt my time was well-spent that evening, and I think you would, too!