The Nutcracker Ballet

The Esplanade is an absolutely stunning piece of architecture with its eye-catching spiky twin domes on the Marina Bay in Singapore.

Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. Picture from Wikipedia

It’s iconic shape has been centre of much debate with many Singaporeans calling it the durian the notorious Southeast Asian “king of fruits”. The real beauty of Esplanade however, is within its domes.

Inside the Theatre Hall at Esplanade.

Just like its uniquely cladded exterior, its interior and performance spaces are exquisitely designed. The building opened to public in 2002 and houses a world-class concert hall and a theatre with seating capacity of 1600 and 2000 people respectively.

The Brochure for the Nutcracker Ballet.

On a Saturday morning not too sunny, just pleasant, the theatre was full of people. I would not be exaggerating when I say there was not an empty seat anywhere. Children especially girls in beautiful frilly net and lace frocks, pinks and reds, pretty shoes; looking dainty as they walked across. There were boys, to my surprise, who behaved so well. My boys would have taken forever to settle down.

There I was with my best friend Susan looking over the theatre waiting for the curtains to lift on the Nutcracker Ballet performance by Singapore Dance Theatre.

Waiting for the curtains to open, nervous with all the excitement in air.

I was as nervous as the children sitting around me. The Nutcracker is particularly famous for the Christmas; the season of giving and joy. For me it was the season of magic, fairies, princesses, kingdoms and all kinds of fantasy.

No photography was allowed in the Theatre Hall, but the write up would be incomplete without the pictures, so I have taken screen shots of uTube videos, image quality is not good but one does get an idea of what it was like. This image is from Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

As the ballet starts and I move with Clara on her journey, I’m instantly transported to a totally different world, a world of remarkable music and dance movements. A world which is sweet and light. It’s colours are vibrant and happy. As the ballerinas dance, the rhythm captivates me, each movement fluid and graceful. The whole troupe spinning and twirling on the stage in beautiful white “tutus” (fluffy skirts), I have no words to describe it. It has to be experienced to realise how phenomenal it is.

This is scene from the dance of Snowflakes in the Land of Snow. The picture is a screen shot from the Royal Opera Ballet performance.

There is a magical quality to this ballet that I have tried to describe in this blog. Tchaikovsky is definitely brilliant at “painting with sound” – creating all sorts colors, textures, moods, and landscapes. I could close my eyes and feel myself lifted with the music as the ballerinas leaped across the stage.

The scene is from Waltz of Snowflakes in the Land of Snow as the leap across the stage. Screen shot from Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet,

All I wanted was to remember every moment of this performance,  to record everything in my mind lest I forget what happened.

Screen shot from the uTube video for Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

—W. B. Yeats
Screen shot of Waltz of Snowflakes from the Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

The magical music evoking a magical atmosphere.

The end of Waltz of Snowflakes in Land of Snow from Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

What is Ballet?

Ballet is defined as a classical dance form using grace and precision, with particular movements and poses, especially the jumps and spins; set in intricate, flowing patterns to create expression through movement. No words are spoken. With music, scenery and costumes, all combined, it is a charming way to tell a story, often with an emotional undertone.

The Waltz of Snowflakes by Berlin State Ballet.

The Background of Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker Ballet is one of Tchaikovsky’s most enchanting works. Tchaikovsky, a Russian born in late 19th century, remains till today one of the most famous and celebrated composers of all time.

The Waltz of Flowers in the Kingdom of Sweets.

This ballet is based on the book “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, by E.T.A. Hoffman, a famous writer and music critic.

Clara is rewarded by series of dances in the Kingdom of Sweets, Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

The French writer Alexandre Dumas later rewrote the story, and the ballet is based on his version.

Screen shot from the Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

A choreographer, Marius Petipa, read the story and loved it. In 1891 he got Tchaikovsky to write a ballet score for the plot. When Tchaikovsky started writing the Nutcracker ballet music, it is said that he didn’t like the project at all. He wanted to change the setting and bits of the story. In the end he did not think that his music was all that good. The original production in 1892 was well received by the Russians theatre goers.

The Waltz of Flowers in the Kingdom of Sweets.

However, later in 1960 it gained enormous popularity in Europe and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America.

The story line for Nutcracker 

Screen shot of uTube video of Waltz of Snowflakes from Royal Opera Ballet.

There are many versions of the Nutcrakcer with storyline mildly adapted for the audience. The one I saw in Singapore was adapted for a wider audience to even accommodate the ones who didn’t celebrate Christmas.

The ballet is set in Shanghai and there is party taking place at the Nightingale’s place, parents to Clara and Fritz. Drosselmeyer brings his goddaughter Clara a gift of a nutcracker doll.  Fritz grabs and breaks the Nutcracker doll much to Clara’s dismay. Drosselmeyer fixes it restoring peace amongst the youngsters. Guests depart as the night comes to an end.

Clara wakes up later in night and sees herself surrounded by a fantasy world, where the Christmas tree grows giant and dolls and soldiers come to life to battle with the mice who have also grown to Clara’s own size. She sees Drosselmeyer return with his nephew Kristian and his four friends who have now become handsome soldiers. There is a fierce battle between the soldiers and the mice are helped by their Mouse King. Clara helps the soldiers gain victory.

The Waltz of Snowflakes, screenshot from the Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

As a reward she is now taken on a magical journey to the Land of Snow where she will meet the Snow King, Queen and snowflake subjects. Beautiful ballerinas dressed in white, like the snow flakes, waltz around the stage, spinning and twirling in patterns, as if blown by the wind. The scenery behind of Fir trees covered with the snow, so magical like the story books I read as a child. The scene and the music was enchanting.

The Sugar Plum Fairy in her solo performance. American Ballet Theatre, screen shot of uTube video.

Next Clara arrives at the Kingdom of Sweets where she is greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. The Sugar Plum Fairy rewards Clara by presenting her with a series of dances. These included Arabian, Chinese and Russian dance and the Waltz of the Flowers.

The Sugar Plum Fairy in her solo performance. American Ballet Theatre, screen shot of uTube video.

The celebrations close with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince dancing a grand pas de deux.

The dance of Sugar Plum fairy with her Prince, from the Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

The ballet ends with Clara waking up back at home wondering whether it was all just a dream.

The Waltz of Flowers in the Kingdom of Sweets.

The music in the Nutcracker ballet is very light and sweet. It creates a doll-like fantasy sound-world. There are different scores for the scenes but my favourite was the score for the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s bit hard to describe in words but the tune is like “drops of water shooting from a fountain”.

Sugar Plum Fairy with her Prince from the Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

The Bourree* of the ballerina was tinkly, magical, dainty as she danced some in short pointe* steps. As she spun on her one foot (called Pirouette* in ballet terms), the music and movements felt like one. She was telling a story. No words uttered but a lot was said. The music overwhelmed me and I was brought tears, tears of happiness.

Screen shot from Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

In the end she is joined by her prince and this pas de deux* suddenly shifts the whole ballet to a new and profound level. Its scintillating tracery of tiny jumps and flickering footwork, both are synchronised in their movement, the whole act was mesmerising.

The Sugar Plum Fairy in her solo performance. American Ballet Theatre, screen shot of uTube video.

Tchaikovsky was one of the first major composers to use a new musical instrument called a “celesta”. The instrument looks like a piano but sounds like tinkle bells. He discovered the instrument during a visit to Paris. The instrument gives a special magic to “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

The Waltz of Snowflakes was the most charming of all. From Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet.

I closed my eyes and repeated to myself dreams come true they always do! I wanted to watch ballet but I was scared to go alone. I was scared and now that I think about it I was pretty silly. I don’t even know what is it that I was scared off. We miss so much in life beacuse we are not willing to go down an unknown path. Note to self – got to be more adventurous, never know what I may find.

Terms used in Ballet

Some terms that I have used here:

Female Ballerinas wear hard shoes, called *pointe shoes, which allow them to dance on the tip of their toes. Men wear soft ballet slippers.
*Bourrée (bor-ray) – A classical ballet movement in which the dancer glides across the floor on their toes with tiny steps.
*Pas de Deux (pah deh doo) – a dance done by partners, French for “Step of Two.” By dancing with a partner a ballerina can jump higher, and “float” about the stage as she is carried by her partner.
*Pirouette (PEER-oo-WHET) –a spin around on one foot, one of the most difficult of all ballet steps.
*Tutu – a that allows a ballerina’s legs to be seen. The short kind is called a “platter,” the longer “romantic.”

Some of Nutcracker performances from around the world:

Performance by Berlin State Ballet
Performance by The Royal Ballet
From the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, December 2012
Russian Nutcracker, performed by the Mariinsky Ballet

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. S Butt says:

    Wonderful venue beautiful location reminds one of Sydney Opera. Please excuse my ignorance, don’t know much about that part of the world, surprised to learn ballet theatre in Singapore. I thought It was a european phenomenon. I think I need to get out more and see more. . . .!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Esplanade concert hall is among 5 best in world and it is really beautiful I did tour last year. Though Singapore is small by most standards when compared to cities like London but there is so much to do here.

      Like

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