With music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by Rodney Gustafson and Gary McKenzie, and featuring the students of Gustafson Dance, the production concludes with a performance at 2 p.m. Sunday after a pair of shows Saturday.
Tchaikovsky’s music — and the ballet — form such an important part of our Christmas season in the United States, that it’s easy to assume it has always been like that. Yet, as our mental picture of how Christmas ought to look and feel dates back not to the middle ages but to 1843, and the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, so our adoration of The Nutcracker began — not in the 1890s when the ballet was introduced, and not even in 1940 when the complete score was first performed here, but in 1954 when George Balanchine mounted a spectacular production with the New York City Ballet.
After that, there followed, not a gradual acceptance of the work throughout the land, but an instant and total embrace of the ballet — everywhere and by everybody. (My own first classical music record was a 10-inch 78 with the “Waltz of the Flowers” on one side and the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on the other.)
Borges says there are such things a “necessary monsters,” and I think it’s fair to call The Nutcracker a necessary narrative. The journey to an alternative world, and the return as a changed, better person, is as old a story as story-telling itself.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Divine Comedy and Gulliver’s Travels all tell this story. The modern age has made two significant modifications: 1) Since Alice fell down the rabbit hole, the journey has often been undertaken as a child, as a growing-up episode (Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker is the definitive version of this aspect); and 2) the journey has frequently offered an escape — or temporary relief — from modern and/or adult life. Why we should suddenly start making a ritual pilgrimage to the land where the Mouse King reigns at the height of the Cold War is anybody’s guess.
“I went full of curiosity,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in Brideshead, “and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”
For many of us, The Nutcracker is just such a door.
Tickets range from $28 to $53 (tickets for children age 12 or younger are $17, with discounts for students and seniors), and are available at The Granada box office at 805.899.2222. Click here to purchase tickets online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.