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Nutcracker draws on rich history

Carolina Ballet to present beloved Tchaikovsky show

Dancers perform as part of a production of “The Nutcracker,” scheduled to start this weekend.
Dancers perform as part of a production of “The Nutcracker,” scheduled to start this weekend.

When Robert Weiss saw a production of George Balanchine’s influential New York City Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” as a child, he knew immediately that he wanted to become a dancer.

“When the lights went down and the curtain went up, you’re transported into a magical world where anything is possible,” Weiss said.

“And I said, ‘That’s the world I want to live in.’”



Time: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Saturday
Location: Memorial Hall

Weiss, now artistic director of Carolina Ballet, will bring his company’s own version of “The Nutcracker” to the stage of Memorial Hall this weekend.

The production includes several special features, such as a tree that grows from 8 feet to 20 feet, real snow and a boat that flies.

“There’s a lot of special effects,” Weiss said. “It’s a great introduction to ballet if you’ve never been to the ballet.”

Although Carolina Ballet’s production of the show debuted in Raleigh in 2001, the story of the ballet dates back much farther.

“The Nutcracker” was based on German author E. T. A. Hoffman’s “Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (The Nutcracker and Mouse King), a dark fairy tale that featured evil spells, hideous dwarves and a seven-headed Mouse King. It was meant to be social commentary.

The story inspired French author Alexandre Dumas, pere, to publish a more lighthearted version of the tale, titled “L’Histoire d’un Casse Noisette” (The Story of a Hazelnut-cracker).

The French story appealed to the director of the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, who in turn suggested it as a commission to music composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and French choreographer Marius Petipa.

“He’s virtually the creator of the classical ballet as we know it, the rules and all the dances,” UNC music professor Jon Finson said about Petipa.

“The Nutcracker” premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in December 1892 to scathing reviews.

Finson said the Russians did not like that the second act was a series of dances without a plot.

“The story of ‘The Nutcracker’ stops after the first act,” he said.

Today, these dances are part of what has made “The Nutcracker” popular. The show allows ballet companies to show off their dancing, costumes and special effects.

Priscilla Bratcher, director of development for Carolina Performing Arts, said “The Nutcracker” offers her a chance to see a completely different audience: one filled with children.

“I always look forward to the little girls in their prettiest dresses, white tights and shiny patent leather shoes and the little boys in jackets and bow ties,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Bratcher said she hopes the show will reach a new generation.

“Their eyes get big and round when they go into the auditorium and they see the beautiful big space,” she wrote. “You always hear gasps when the curtains open and the Land of the Sugarplum Fairy scene is revealed.”

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