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Why The Nutcracker is the perfect ballet for children

The Nutcracker has long been so familiar, such a sparkling, snow dusted cornerstone of the festive season, that it is all too easy to take it for granted. Ballet can be heavy duty for children, and yet year in year out, and in innumerable productions across the world this 123 year old work about Clara and her new prized possession weaves its magic on the young. (By no means, indeed, the last time that particular ballet would have that effect.)

Not so The Nutcracker. Although hardly insubstantial, two acts, of less than an hour each, is fine for under 10s, and of course there's plenty of time in between for an ice cream. From my very first encounter with it, aged five or so, I loved it.

Moreover, The Nutcracker is set on Christmas Eve, which gives it an instant and irresistible patina of magic. Most of the first act plays out in the cosy, candlelit domesticity of the Silberhaus's home, complete with tree, legions of presents, and friends and family turning up for the festivities: what could be more enticing as December 25th either thrillingly approaches or tragically retreats into the past? Except, that is, for the tree's magical growing (or Clara's magical shrinking, depending on the point of view), the pitched battle between the toy soldiers and the wicked Mouse King, and Clara's subsequent journey to a phantasmagorical new land.

And yet, Knockoff gold bracelets for men despite all these aces up its sleeve, the success of any production of The Nutcracker is by no means a given. Compared with those two other late 19th century, Tchaikovsky scored titans The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake with their clear, linear plots and deftly deployed dramatis personae this dance version of ETA Hoffmann's 1816 fairy tale is, in its traditional form, quite a mess.

Who is the star: young Clara, whose adventure this at first seems to be? The avuncular Drosselmeyer? Or the enigmatic Sugar Plum Fairy who materialises later on? The latter, rather than Clara, is the "ballerina" role that is, the part generally taken by one of a company's A list female dancers but she doesn't appear until half way through the action and, by the time she does, Clara is traditionally and incongruously relegated to the status of passive spectator. Also, what exactly do the two acts have in common? Not, you might argue, a great deal.

Any would be producer of The Nutcracker, then, faces considerable challenges if they are to avoid the ballet's fate when choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov first staged it in St Petersburg, in 1892, when it flopped dismally. And none in the modern era has solved them more lucidly or entertainingly than veteran producer and former Birmingham Royal Ballet director Peter Wright.

His 1984 staging for the Royal Ballet, reworked over the years and returning to Covent Garden this week, takes all the trailing narrative ends and ties them up in replica enamel on gold jewelry neat and suitably magical bows. It clearly establishes just why there is a nutcracker that suddenly turns into a real person here,

Hans Peter and why Drosselmeyeris so concerned about him (Hans Peter is Drosselmeyer's nephew, cursed by the Mouse King); in also making Drosselmeyer a magician, and the Kingdom of the Sweets (to which he escorts Clara and Hans Peter) his creation, it neatly bridges the often disparate acts by putting

Drosselmeyer at the centre of both; and, by reworking the steps to allow Clara, in Act 2, to join in with the Spaniards, Russians, Merlitons et al,it prevents her from having tospend most of the act merely gawping at them.

However, the episode in any Nutcracker that has the greatest potential for leaving young mouths agape in wonder is the transformation scene when, having sneaked downstairs as midnight approaches, replica mens gold bracelet Clara sees the Christmas tree grow to what Petipa himself called "dizzying heights". And yet, how exactly to carry off this coup de thtre?

The Royal Ballet's version, with its beautiful early 19th century, Biedermeier era designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, makes full use of the enormous, 40ft "well" at the back of the Covent Garden stage, which allows the tree to wait, intact and unseen, until required, and then rise majestically through the floor. But the Edwardian set production that Wright created for the Royal's sister company Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1991 is, if anything, more spectacular still. I won't risk spoiling designer John Macfarlane's masterstroke here suffice it to say that his stage wizardry will make your progeny's eyes boggle, and will vividly remind you of a time when you, too, were dwarfed by your family Christmas tree.

The choreography is almost invariably of the most child friendly kind, making the ballet an ideal introduction to a wonderful art form. Although adults may find it tricky to stifle yawns during Act 1's man vs mouse skirmish, children love it, while Act 2's episodic nature is ideal for younger attention spans. There simply copy hermes handbags prices isn't time to get bored, and, in any even half decent producer's hands, each divertissement will be as lively and distinctive as the music demands.

And here we come to the main reason why The Nutcracker will always be catnip for producers, dancers and audiences of all ages: Tchaikovsky's wonder of a score. The overture is as tantalising as Christmas itself, the music for the early household scenes as warm and inviting as freshly buttered toast, while those Act 2 "diverts" along with the Sugar Plum Fairy's famous variation are little gems that corruscate with character, colour and often instantly recognisable melody. But there are even greater musical treasures elsewhere: the Snowflakes, the Act 1 pas de deux and (supremely) the soaring crescendo that accompanies the transformation scene, a passage Tchaikovsky is said to have pilfered from an original draft of his own Sleeping Beauty.

Add to all this the fact that children can let their imaginations run wild in terms of how they interpret this remarkably un proscriptive story, and you are left with no good reason not to take your family off to a Nutcracker this month or next.

And with the both the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet dancing it in the South East (including an ENB charity one off featuring actor James Fox and an additional cast of 76 children), BRB in the Midlands, and Northern Ballet in Leeds you really have no excuse

As for Scottish Ballet, they've temporarily shelved their charming, chamber sized Nutcracker in favour of a new Cinderella. But that, as they say, is another story.

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By zroessgs viesoess
Added Oct 12

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