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Tchaikovsky is known in the realm of dance for his three celebrated ballets. His final ballet, The Nutcracker, is based a story by the Romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. In the ballet, Clara gets a nutcracker as a Christmas gift from her fairly creepy uncle, Drosselmeyer. The Nutcracker comes to life, defeats an army of rats, and whisks Clara away to the land of sweets for what amounts to an act-long divertissement.
With childlike innocence, Tchaikovsky conjures up the candy kingdom setting of Act Two, introducing various characters (the Sugar Plum Fairy, whose dance features the tinkling celesta, an instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered during a trip to Paris) and nationalities (the Chinese, Spanish, and Arabian dances as well as the Trepak, a Russian dance) as well as providing the necessary sweeping tunes (the pas de deux, which opens with a long-breathed melody for the cello before building to an overwhelming climax, the glorious Waltz of the Flowers, and the Grand Waltz that closes the ballet).
This weekend, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performs the ballet’s second act, providing an opportunity to hear Tchaikovsky’s genius beyond the boundaries of the standard Nutcracker Suite and to enjoy a staging of this perennial holiday favorite under the summer sky.
- John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA and has also annotated programs for the Hong Kong Arts Festival and Los Angeles Opera.