Another Plum for the holiday pudding

It's a tradition, sure. But OBT's "Nutcracker" is about the music and dance.

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” premiered at New York City Center on February 2, 1954, and was the six-year-old New York City Ballet’s most expensive and elaborate production to date.  That’s because Balanchine insisted on a three-dimensional “growing” Christmas tree, which turned out to be more dramatic than anticipated:  because of faulty wiring, the lights on it shorted out from time to time.

Chauncey Parsons as Candy Cane. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2012

Chauncey Parsons as Candy Cane. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert/2012

Nearly sixty years later, Oregon Ballet Theatre opens this year’s major Portland production of  “The Nutcracker”  at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Keller Auditorium. The timing is in keeping with what did not begin as a Christmas ritual, but became one in short order for what only seems to be every ballet company in America – large, small, professional, or student.

I will be there with my five-year-old grandson.  I want him to peer into the orchestra pit as the musicians tune up (there is live orchestra of Tchaikowsky’s score for Saturday’s matinee performance and five others). I want him to see the first act party, the mechanical dolls, the sinister Drosselmeier, the “Grandfather dance.”  And I want him to see Marie’s dream of the growing Christmas tree, the battling mice and soldiers, the journey through the land of snow to the Kingdom of the Sweets, because that’s what children like to see.

But most of all, I want him to see what I want to see, the second-act divertissements, some of which offer sublime opportunities for classical dancing: the Dewdrop variation as part of the Waltz of the Flowers; the Sugar Plum Fairy’s solo and pas de deux with her Cavalier; the Marzipan Shepherdess, which Portland-trained Janet Reed originated at the 1954 premiere in New York.  And I want him to see OBT’s dancers perform them, each of them dancing Balanchine’s choreography (OBT’s version, unlike many others, is his), but making it their own.

“The Nutcracker” is a Christmas tradition, but when you come right down to it, it’s all about the dancing and the music and the art form known as ballet.  I don’t know how many “Nutcrackers” I’ve seen; I really don’t. But I’m eager to see this one, this year, through the eyes of a child who already loves fantasy, music and dancing.


OBT’s production of “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker'” runs for 14 performances, Saturday, December 14, through Tuesday, December 24. For performance times and ticket information, click here.

The corps de ballet. Photo: Blaine truitt Covert/2012

The corps de ballet. Photo: Blaine truitt Covert/2012


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