By Joseph E. Morgan
It would seem that it was in 1897, at the Tennessee Centennial International Exhibition, that Clara’s strange and somewhat eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer found the magical nutcracker. On Friday, when he gave it to his niece at TPAC’s Jackson Hall, Nashville’s Holiday season had officially begun.
Oddly, at its premiere in 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet was not a success. Derived from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, much of the original critical displeasure came from cuts that had to be made to the well-known tale, as well as what was considered “insipid” dancing. As for the cuts, Tchaikovsky’s ballet has now become more famous than the tale from which it is derived, and since the 1960s, it has become a worldwide Christmas phenomenon. As for the dancing, well, the Nashville Production has no such problems—the wonderful dancers from the School of Nashville Ballet have taken care of that.
A tradition he’s been running since 2008, director Paul Vasterling’s concept, story treatment and choreography are both subtle and quite extravagant. He wanted “to create something unique to Nashville while still honoring the tradition of The Nutcracker.” His solution, setting the story around local landmarks, including the Parthenon and the Belle Meade Mansion, and including local characters (Andrew Jackson appears as a mechanical doll), make an international, and otherwise overdone tradition, relevant and fun again. The sparkling costumes worn by children and adult dancers are a wonder to behold, as is the exotic scenery of the international second act.
What also makes this production unique is the fact that it grows and changes with the audience and dancers. Built from a troop of local children 200 strong (auditions occur in September) as well as students from the School of Nashville Ballet, as the students mature they graduate to new roles—mice from 2011 are now soldiers. As such, the audience can watch local dancers, many of which are their own children, mature and reinterpret the tradition from one year to the next.
Thus, before the whole season passes you by, come get into the spirit and join the tradition with the Nashville Ballet’s Nutcracker, appearing every weekend through Christmas at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall.