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A Guide to the Nutcracker

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published December 10th 2010
Wherever you live, it's unlikely a Christmas season goes past without "The Nutcracker", it's like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, dusted off every year, but still gorgeous in all her glory. I'm referring to someone local to you putting on a production of the ballet, not to any device or person that you have in your house responsible for cracking nuts. This ballet - and its suite of music which sounds like Christmas should - is a classic, and perfect for tiny aspiring ballerinas and people who love the Christmas spirit.

The story line runs like a fairytale but one you may not have heard yet the costumes will almost definitely be brightly coloured and spangly, there are only two acts of short, bright, diverse pieces and it all takes place on a particularly magical Christmas eve... If you're considering attending a production, these are a few things to be aware of that will help you make the most of this most magical of Christmas traditions.
By Flickr user scillystuff
The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Consort at the Royal Opera House

The basic story:
Clara's parents have a huge Christmas party with lots of guests, many who bring gifts for Clara and the other children. One gift is a beautifully carved Nutcracker in the shape of a soldier. After everyone's gone to bed Clara sneaks downstairs to check on the Nutcracker, but when the clock strikes midnight she finds that he and the toys have come to life and grown to person size... And her Nutcracker becomes her friend and takes her on an adventure in the land of sweets...

What to tell little, and big, boys:
Don't get disparaged by the prancing at the beginning, there's a scene where the Mouse King and his minions attack the Nutcracker Prince. And there's a minor battle between the Mouse Army and some toys-come-to-life who are in league with the Gingerbread men, along with some comedy antics from the Mouse Army.
In the second act they catch the boat not just to any old kingdom, but to the kingdom of sweets! It's vaguely educational in that the sweets come from all over the world it's like the treat United Nations, they have chocolate from Spain, tea from China and Coffee from Arabia.
You'll probably recognise lots of the music from TV commercials... And the original score included passages to be played by toy instruments...

What to tell little girls:
In most productions some of the 'children' in the opening scene are dancers, but some of them are really children (unless you're going to a ballet school production, in which case they're all going to be children!).
The dance of the sugar plum fairy isn't until the second half of the ballet she's not the main character, but she does get to do a big pas de deux in her beautiful tutu (usually the grandest of the lot, but there will be plenty of nice dresses.).
At the end of the ballet, Clara and her Nutcracker Prince become the rulers of the treat nation and live happily ever after, but it's not sweets who are dancing for them then, it's flowers waltzing.

And if you don't live somewhere snowy, this is a way to guarantee the you see snow this Christmas, as the first act closes with the Dance of the Snowflakes, which, in most productions is accompanied by falling faux snow.
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