Numbed by 'The Nutcracker'

Want to see a dance critic go berserk? Just take her to a shopping mall during the holidays or watch her in a doctor’s office or chain restaurant — anywhere there’s likely to be a tinkling waltz composed by Tchaikovsky for his grand sugarplum fantasy ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

Faster than you can say “Nutcracker Suite,” said dance critic’s pupils will dilate, her lips will begin to quiver, and if she’s strong and well trained, she may beat a quick retreat without melting into a self-pitying puddle.

After writing about the Christmas-time offering year after year, most professional dance writers have little good left to say about the tradition. Well, one thing: It covers a lot of studio rent for the rest of the dance year.

For those unfamiliar with this dark German tale of the well-to-do Stahlbaum family, it centers around little Clara, who receives an enchanted nutcracker from her mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer. Her brother breaks it. The plot thickens, and a fight ensues between mice and soldiers, led by the suddenly grown-up nutcracker prince with large thighs and high leaps.

Ever since “The Nutcracker” premiered in St. Petersburg in 1862 (and was not well-received by the Czar’s court, incidentally), the music has been as ubiquitous at Christmas time as St. Nick and Ebenezer Scrooge. Not even Tchaikovsky, who died soon after the premiere, could have envisioned the impact his composition would have on us in the Western world.

Dancers have been known to alter the familiar steps just to keep them on their toes, and musicians have changed the tempo or the notes, to likewise renew their interest.

Nevertheless, it’s a ballet that no one can stay tired of. Eleven months or so later, most of us are ready to face for another serving.

Most importantly, it’s the magnet that brings audiences out for live dance year after year. So never mind the critics; bring on the waltz.


A Change of pace


Meanwhile, I’m taking my grandkids to see “The Lion King,” Broadway’s eighth longest-running musical, returning to the Hippodrome Theatre through Jan. 8. Here is a story we can all embrace — and the African dancing is grounded in the rhythms of life.

Choreographed by George Faison (a favorite in Howard County), “The Lion King” showcases local dancers and offers a lot of live theater magic for kids of all ages.

Here’s a tip to avoid the steep ticket prices: Check for last-minute cancellations and  $20 tickets at the door.

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