Nutcracker Trivia: 3 Surprising Facts About the Original “Kingdom of Sweets”

(Via Giphy)

The Nutcracker first came alive through dance over 100 winters ago in St. Petersburg, Russia. Here’s what you might not know about Act II of 1892…

1.  The “Waltz of the Flowers” Was Inspired by Another Famous Ballet Waltz

(Via Giphy)

What do Disney’s song “Once Upon a Dream” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” have in common?

They share the same source of inspiration!

The Nutcracker’s original choreographer, Marius Petipa, wanted the “Waltz of the Flowers” to evoke the scene of the “Village Waltz” (a.k.a. “Garland Waltz”) that he created in his collaboration with composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for The Sleeping Beauty two years earlier.

Petipa’s original outline for the “Waltz of the Flowers” even called for dancers to carry garlands…

2. The “Trepak” Was Sugar-Free

(Via Giphy)

There wasn’t a candy cane in sight, nor a Russian character dancer for that matter…

Russian character steps were Petipa’s original plan, but when illness forced him to bow out of the production, his assistant, Lev Ivanov, who was put in charge, eventually decided that he didn’t care for this idea.

Following the suggestion of an artist, Ivanov changed the “Trepak” into a dance for a jester with a hoop.

Yes, he did indeed send in the clowns…

3. The Sugar Plum Fairy Had Nothing to Do with Plums

 (Via Giphy)

Though she’s often gorgeously costumed in visions of purple today, this most beloved fairy in all of ballet was not meant to represent a serving of your daily fruit intake.

Plums preserved in sugar have been around for centuries, but the sugar plums that inspired the Sugar Plum Fairy were once-popular sweets made of sugar coating layered over nut or seed centers.

If that description sounds a little, well, underwhelming—never fear—there’s more to the story…

The meaning of “sugar plum” radiates beyond the realm of candy. At the time The Nutcracker first appeared on stage, the term also meant anything lovely and desirable.

So, yes, the Sugar Plum Fairy is truly sugar, spice, and everything nice!


Resources:

~Print~

The Life and Ballets of Lev Ivanov: Choreographer of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Roland John Wiley, Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Nutcracker Ballet, Jack Anderson, Mayflower Books, 1979

Nutcracker Nation, Jennifer Fisher, Yale University Press, 2003

~Web~

Alexander Shiriaev: The Hidden Genius of Ballet and Film, Wendy Perron, Dance Magazine online, Dec. 23, 2011

What Are Sugar Plums Anyway?, Rebecca Rupp, National Geographic, December 23, 2014

Advertisements

Fun Fact: Ballet Class Isn’t What it Used to Be…Thank Goodness!

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I need an ice pack just thinking about this…

A ballet barre from the 1820s:

“48 pliés followed by 128 grand battement, 96 petit battement glissé, 128 ronds de jambes sur terre and 128 en l’air, and ending finally with 128 petit battement sur le cou-de-pied. One inevitable consequence of this extreme training was a sharp rise in injuries.”

– Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels, 2010, p. 129-130

Oh, and all of this was repeated in center. Yikes. Do not try at home.

Extreme Ballet Training Image Clara's Coffee Break
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image – Not a Painting of an 1820s Ballet Class, in Case You’re Wondering 😉

Ballerinas with Wings: Swan Roles

Anna Pavlova Edit 1
Created with Wikimedia Commons Pubic Domain Image of Anna Pavlova in “The Dying Swan.”

From the irresistible pull of swan arms to the allure of feathered tutus, swan-inspired characters outrank other bird roles in the realm of ballet. Here’s a throwback to three of the most famous swan roles as interpreted by past generations…

White Swan

Distilled through black and white, foregoing scenery, and emphasizing movement as the medium of storytelling, this 1970s Kirov film brings the emotional core of Swan Lake‘s pas de deux into focus with sophisticated simplicity. Odette’s enigmatic, love-him-or-love-him-not relationship with Siegfried is told through the power of musical motion with little aid or accent of acting–flowing through reserve, release, tension, ease, energy projecting outward, and drawing inward…

Black Swan

Odile actually didn’t acquire her avian identity until the 1940s…Before then she was simply a femme fatale who could be costumed in a variety of colors including red and green. But, safe to say, the little black dress makeover certainly stuck. It’s hard not to imagine that this was her signature look all along. Here’s a clip, also from the 70s, of Kirov soloist Elena Yeteyeva performing the variation and coda fouettés.

Dying Swan

“Often imitated, never duplicated”… For something seemingly simple in design–mostly bourrées and upper body movements–Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan, created for Anna Pavlova, has eluded so many of its subsequent performers. Pavlova’s watermark on the work, as seen in this 1925 film, is the translucent abandon and leaf-in-the-wind quality of her arms and upper body: ballerina grace, but with a sense of unsettled drifting.

Taglioni Tuesday

“Contemporary lithographs and portraits often show Taglioni poised in a low arabesque; she balances on an exquisitely arched foot, with her other leg stretched out behind and an arm reaching poignantly forward. It is an emblematic moment: we feel her body pulled in two directions. She wants to go, but her leg and her arm counteract each other, and instead she balances perfectly on one foot, caught between fleeting desires. The impulse is to fly, but the symmetry of the position will not allow it. The boundaries of classical technique are clear, which made it all the more interesting when she strained to escape them.”

– Jennifer Homans, “Steps, Steps, Steps“, New Republic, February 17, 2002

marie-taglioni-in-zephire-large
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Fun Fact: What is “Gisellitis”?

Gisellitis Clara's Coffee Break 3
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

What does George Balanchine’s term “Gisellitis” mean?

Robert Greskovic writes:

“Some observers choose to apply the word soft to ballet from the Romantic era. It’s not an inappropriate distinction, but it can be a trap, leading in the extreme (of both expectation and execution) to a limpness and/or droopiness that borders on the absurd. (Balanchine scoffed at a certain lugubriousness around the Old World ballet, and even created the term Gisellitis to describe the “disease”).”

Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet, p. 301