Ballet Parking

Fidelity Press
Cloth $29
115 pages, 6" x 9", jacketed clothbound with DVD

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Ballet Parking

Performing the Nutcracker as Counter-Revolutionary Act

Jones, E. Michael

The Nutcracker began as a German fairy tale. It then became a Russian ballet, and now, in its latest incarnation, it has become an American ritual. Every year mothers from the suburbs surrounding South Bend, Indiana, set out in their vans and SUVs to slay the rat king in a military campaign against the rats and everything they symbolize. Every year they volunteer their little boys and girls as soldiers in the culture wars so that they can defeat the rats of appetite, disorder, and chaos by wielding the weapons of truth, beauty, and grace. The Nutcracker is the 21st-century version of the Children’s Crusade.

Ballet Parking traces the evolution of The Nutcracker from a tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann to the ballet by Petipa/Tchaikovsky to the George Ballanchine production in America, while at the same time explaining how each instance was a reaction to revolution. The fairy tale (as a manifestation of German romanticism) was a reaction to Napoleon: revolution in Russia provided the backdrop for Russian ballet and in 1917 succeeded in destroying it. The Ballanchine production of The Nutcracker in America in 1954 was a conscious act of nostalgia (Ballanchine performed with the Maryinsky ballet before the Revolution) that appealed to America as the premier counter-revolutionary country at the height of the Cold War anti-Communist crusade. That’s what it has remained to this day in the aftermath of the cultural revolution of the ’60s.

The Ballet Parking DVD supplements this analysis with footage of Nutcracker rehearsals and performances at Southhold Dance Theater, as well as interviews with the artistic directors and the people behind the scenes that make these yearly performances possible. The DVD also makes use of Soviet archival footage, which includes extraordinary shots of Lenin and train sequences that look like something out of Dr. Zhivago, as well as footage of riots during the American cultural revolution of the ’60s. It even contains footage of Napoleon invading Russia taken from Soviet era feature films, as well as a soundtrack that is an anthology of the best music in the ballet repertoire. This book makes an ideal Christmas present for the culturally astute.