To learn more about the art of Patti Rokus, and for more information about her book, click here.
This week’s Diva Challenge is to create a holiday tile. Here’s mine:
I never heard this lovely carol to the tune of “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella” before last year.
Poor Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Following the huge success of The Sleeping Beauty ballet in 1890, the Tsar wanted another hit from Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa.
Petipa took charge of the storyline of the ballet and created two scenes based on the Alexander Dumas adaptation of ETA Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The first act is a children’s pantomime, complete with party games. During Christmas festivities, Uncle Drosselmeyer gives Clara a toy nutcracker, which her brother promptly breaks. At night, the nutcracker (really Drosselmeyer’s nephew transformed by the evil mouse king) comes to life and with the toy soldiers defeats the mouse king and takes Clara on an enchanted journey. The second act finds the young couple in the Kingdom of Sweets, where confections dance for their entertainment.
But when Petipa handed over the synopsis, Tchaikovsky was appalled. Nothing sparked his interest and the music that emerged was dry and lifeless. He missed his first deadline for the performance.
Worse was yet to come. While traveling through Paris on his way to an American tour, Tchaikovsky learned about the death of his beloved sister Sasha. But in his grief he found inspiration for The Nutcracker. In Clara, he found a parallel for his sister. Memories of their childhood and the last Christmas they spent together, in 1890, sparked the music. The whole ballet transformed by his change in attitude. Tchaikovsky imagined himself as the magician Drosselmeyer. When Clara and the Nutcracker fight the Mouse King, Clara thwacks the rodent over the head with her slipper and breaks the spell, releasing the dashing Hans Peter. Heroism and freedom find voice in one of Tchaikovsky’s most longing melodies. Clara has become a woman, and in her the spirit of Sasha lives on.
The ballet’s second act is a reflection of the first, with the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince appearing as counterparts for Clara and Hans Peter. While the latter pair dance to a rising melody, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux with the Prince is dominated by a solemn descending motif. The “Waltz of the Flowers,” with its brooding minor passages, echoes the triple-time dance through the snowflakes.
Despite its emotional power, the first audience in 1892 dismissed the ballet. Although the first act with the big Christmas tree and the children and the toy soldiers and the battle with the Mouse King is engaging, the second act hardly involves any drama at all; it’s just a series of colorful dances.
The libretto was criticized as not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale. Critics decried the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet*, and many bemoaned the fact that the prima ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act. Some found the transition between the “real” world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt.
Response was more positive for Tchaikovsky’s score. One novelty in the score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He utilized it for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy because of its “heavenly sweet sound”.
Despite the failure of its initial performance, The Nutcracker has become the most frequently performed of all ballets and has served as an introduction to classical music for many young people. It also would be young dancers’ first chance to perform in a ballet as well. Because the first act is set at a Christmas party, the ballet is often presented at Christmastime, and some major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.
*A sweet story about the children who participated in that first production: Apparently the children had a hard time learning the little toy instruments they were supposed to play on stage, and did not play them very well; but after the premier Tchaikovsky sent a note to all the children congratulating them on their performance and he sent each child a box of candy.
The information in this article came from:
Now it’s your turn. Have you ever seen The Nutcracker live? When our children were younger, we took them to see it at Princeton’s McCarter Theater and at Phoenix Symphony Hall. What other holiday entertainment traditions does your family enjoy? Share in the comments below.
For your holiday season pleasure, here are some YouTube videos featuring Christmas-themed dances.
A family’s Christmas tradition, making a yearly dance video:
Several short offerings from a dance academy:
College students get in the spirit:
The first part of this is so original:
This SO reminds me of my daughter Carly’s first dance recital…
The dog’s not impressed, but I am:
Cool hip hop moves:
Rockettes chorus line:
What does it take for the Rockettes to dance with such precision?
The Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker:
When our five children were small and we were barely getting by on Greg’s teaching salary, the best Christmas gift ideas were things we could make ourselves. Life has changed, and I don’t often give handmade gifts anymore, but here are some beauties I’d like to make some day.
- Handmade Christmas cards. These can be a family project.
- I made these beaded candy cane ornaments with my kids when they were small. We made lots and gave many as gifts and used the rest on our Christmas tree. For extra sparkle, be sure to use red translucent and crystal clear beads rather than opaque red and white.
- Many of my neighbors lost trees during two horrendous storms this past summer. If I had known about this rustic Christmas tree project, I would have offered to haul away some of their branches.
- I’ve been wanting to make pillowcases this way. I’ve seen them done up in Christmas fabrics, juvenile fabrics, and designer fabrics. Gorgeous!
- Remember latch hook rugs? You can use the same technique to make rag rugs. The author used cut-up bed sheets and tied the strips to the canvas, but if you have a latch hook (you might be able to find one at a thrift shop), you could do it a lot faster.
- Crafty people, do you have more buttons than you know what to do with? (Did you inherit your Grandma’s prized button box?) Make a button garland.
- If you like to embroider, you can make a lovely snowflake/floral mandala.
- I find it hard to part with fabric scraps. I believe in my heart I’ll use them someday in projects like this English-paper-pieced bookmark.
Now it’s your turn. Are you making Christmas gifts this year? Or have you in the past? What was a successful craft project? Share in the comments below.
First dose of Creative Juice for the New Year!
- I can hear you.
- Eco-dyeing paper.
- Beautiful art quilts.
- The beauty of the American Ancients.
- What? You don’t have a 2018 calendar yet?! Print out a template, and decorate each month to suit your fancy! Lots of ideas here.
- Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? Maybe you could borrow some of these.
- Because I enjoy listening to Christian contemporary music, I was interested in this writer’s 25 best Christian albums of 2017. I’ve never heard of any of these artists other than Jeremy Camp.
- The best Christmas story I read in 2017. I know we’re done with Christmas, but read it anyway. It had me rolling on the floor.
- And yeah, I know, but here are some excellent suggestions for Christmas reading next year. You might want to bookmark this article.
- The art of political cartoons.
- I love these beautiful Zentangle designs.
- Now that New Year’s has come and gone, what do the words of Auld Lang Syne really mean?