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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Flower Power: 6 Famous Flower Scenes in Ballet

What’s your favorite ballet flower scene? Here are some memorable ones…

Rose Adagio—The Sleeping Beauty

Are flowers the way the to the heart? Not in this case. Princess Aurora doesn’t find true love with any of her rose-bearing suitors, but her dance with them is one of the most famous in all of ballet.

Garland Waltz—The Sleeping Beauty

Flowers, flowers everywhere! Presumably the village people didn’t suffer from allergies. Or perhaps some good fairy freed them from that curse… (This clip doesn’t show the entire stage, but I do like the close-up view of the Mariinsky’s version.)

Lilac Fairy’s Variation—The Sleeping Beauty

What floral-inspired magical creature saves the day and rocks a purple wig at the same time? The Lilac Fairy, of course! But, before all of the drama—a dance.

“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…”—Giselle

Spoiler alert: the flower tells the truth.

Le Jardin Animé—Le Corsaire

If you didn’t get enough flowers in the “Garland Waltz,” this scene in Le Cosaire basically blossoms into balletic botanical garden.

Waltz of the Flowers—The Nutcracker

Beautiful any time of year… Besides, there’s a good chance this music dances through your head all year anyway.

 

5 Stages of Post-Nutcracker Grief

All the feels. Every December. Can you relate? 😉

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Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Denial

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Linger as long as possible at the theater. Take one last cast picture with friends. Take one last dressing room selfie. Help anyone and everyone put away costumes and props, whether they need or want your help or not. Take one last panoramic view of the stage. Take one last artsy, Instagram photo of the stage…Repeat as desired–or until security throws you out.

Frustration

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Wonder why magic has to end so soon… Suddenly recall every real (or imagined) shortcoming in your performances–your double turns, your nervous smiles, that time you put your headpiece on backwards during a quick change–valuable moments onstage you’ll never get back….Why, why, why…

Bargaining

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Remember that the show can still go on…on social media! Make photo albums for Facebook. Add half a dozen filtered pictures and videos to Instagram in one evening. Tweet cryptic, bittersweet tweets hourly. If anyone unfollows you for oversharing, well, they weren’t a true friend anyway…

Anyway, at least there is next year… Yes, think about next year… There are probably three or four roles you’d be a candidate for… But, which ones are you most likely to get? So many factors worthy of obsession here… What if you grow a couple of inches? What if you somehow shrink? What if your petit allegro miraculously improves?

Gloom

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Resistance is futile. Listen to sad songs. Indulge in mournful improv.

Try to distract yourself…Chocolate. Peppy music. Movie binge. Chocolate. Peppy music. Movie binge. Clean your room for the first time in forever. Peppy music. It’s going to be okay! You are sooo okay!

Go to bed. Lie awake. Get back on Facebook. Post more backstage pictures.

Acceptance

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Sometimes, it actually happens…eventually. 😉

Fun Fact: The Link Between the Waltz of the Flowers and The Sleeping Beauty

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Nutcracker Act II set design from 1892. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

–  The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Whether you agree with Mr. Gatsby or not, the idea of repeating the past was the game plan for choreographer Marius Petipa during the creation of the Waltz of the Flowers for the very first Nutcracker in 1892…

The past that Petipa was seeking to repeat was the recent past–his previous collaboration with composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1890 on a ballet known as The Sleeping Beauty.

Dance writer and critic Robert Greskovic explains:

“Tchaikovsky composed a lush, expansive waltz for what Petipa planned as a re-creation of the similarly grand number he staged for the “Valse Villageoise” in Sleeping Beauty two years earlier.” (Ballet 101, p. 266)

“Valse Villageoise” is, of course, the “Village Waltz” a.k.a. “Garland Waltz” a.k.a. Disney’s inspiration for the song, “Once Upon a Dream.”

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Photo by Rachel Hellwig.

Petipa gave Tchaikovsky detailed guidelines about the structure of each scene in The Nutcracker and the accompanying music he desired him to compose. His outline for the Waltz of the Flowers is as follows:

“Seventh Dance.
Valse des Fleurs with large garlands.
8 bars for the start of the waltz, then, the
 same amount of bars as in the rural waltz
in The Sleeping Beauty (second scene).
The little man claps his hands and 36 danseurs
and 36 danseuses appear, dressed
like flowers who carry a large bouquet
and present it to the Prince and his Bride.
As soon as this is done, the dancers, as is
usual in operas, take their positions and
begin to dance.”

(The Nutcracker Ballet by Jack Anderson, p. 38)

What might this have looked like on stage?

Perhaps something like the clip below from a Staatsballett Berlin production that drew upon the 1892 costume and set designs as well as historic choreographic records…However, this Nutcracker is certainly not a “reconstruction.” As critic Ilona Landgraf explains about the surviving notation of The Nutcracker’s choreography:

“[…] the snag is that Stepanov recorded only the big, complex group dances and poses. Missing are transitions and other crucial specifics.”

Still, this video offers an interesting glimpse at a vision of the Waltz of the Flowers that’s very different than interpretations we are used to seeing today.

Can you, as a modern balletomane, disassociate the garland imagery in this Tchaikovsky waltz from its more famous use in The Sleeping Beauty?

Moreover, does the Waltz of the Flowers live up to the Village Waltz? Does it surpass it? Did Petipa and Tchaikovsky succeed in repeating the past? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…

Sugar Plum Lilac Fairy?

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Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s iconic variation music once was borrowed for another famous ballet character…

“The same tinkling celesta was interpolated for the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Princess, the 1921 Ballet Russes version of The Sleeping Beauty.”

Nutcracker Nation by Jennifer Fisher  p. 20