The Nutcracker is back! From the overture, which I’ve never played– no cellos!– to the final waltz, which we just played a couple of hours ago at LMU, every mood is broached. Joy, despair, fear, mischief, love, – it’s all there. It is a zone that we enter every December in which we lose ourselves in the music while the finest local dancers take the stage one floor above us. The Appalachian Ballet Company's production has some new twists this year, and it has been amusing to hear how the presence of so many new players affects the overall feel of the ballet.
My favorite part is the snow waltz. The nutcracker has just become a handsome prince, and he leads Clara to a piney forest where snowflakes are dancing around them. I could never understand why such a joyful sort of occasion is accompanied by such starkly luscious E-minor music. The contrary motion and the hemiola rhythm create a sense of urgency that is calmed when a B-Major scale picks us all up and drops us into the land of E Major. A women’s choir confirms the good mood, and then it’s time to take a break. My second favorite would have to be the Arabian Dance. The harmony is so soulful and the instrumentation color is so charming, I never notice that I have just played the same rhythmic figure 66 times.
Tchaikovsky’s music seems so perfect, so pre-determined. It is hands down my favorite composition of his. Well, along with the Rococo Variations. The overture is in B♭, and Act 1 ends in E Major, a key a tritone away from B♭– about as unrelated a key as could be. (See earlier post about intervals). Act 2 picks up in E Major, and the ballet ends in B♭. This is not a coincidence. How he maneuvers to arrive in these keys so seamlessly is yet another marvel. As in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra we played last month, every instrument is put through its paces in tasteful ways. Even the chime– I would certainly find it challenging to hit the chime exactly the same way exactly 12 times. (And not 13)!
In the 90's, I was able to play the entire first act from memory. It made for a very transcendental experience. Back then there were two completely different productions of the Nutcracker– the City Ballet, which was based variously in Cincinnati, Tulsa or New Orleans, and this same Appalachian Ballet. This year the ABC is doing productions at the Civic Auditorium, Dec. 3rd at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4th at 2 p.m., and at the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College, Dec. 10th at 2 and 8. It should be noted that out of the 28 or so ballet companies in the Southeast, the Appalachian Ballet is one of four that use live music. And believe me when I say, live music is best.