Getting my nuts cracked

One man’s journey at The Nutcracker

Cattana attempting to plie.
Photo: 

I have to be honest — I’m no ballet expert. Before I walked into The National Ballet in Toronto, I had to ask my girlfriend, “Are there words in The Nutcracker?”

To which, if you know ballet at all, she replied no. I was doomed. 

When the lights faded to black, I was sure I was going to fall asleep at some point to the sound of classical music and a bunch of ballerinas jumping around on stage.  

But to my surprise, I was more than awake. It was amazing.

If you don’t know The Nutcracker, here’s what I gathered: On Christmas Eve, Clara, a young girl receives a nutcracker that takes her and her brother on a journey to a magical world. They dance with snowflakes, meet the sugar plum fairy and defeat a rat army, only to wake up on Christmas morning after what seems like a vivid dream. 

As the action ensued, the first thing that stood out to me was the musical score. When the ballet started, I was surprised that I knew the music. While I always thought of classical music from a famous composer, I never knew it was in The Nutcracker. As the orchestra began to play the sounds became increasingly familiar, it was a mix between magical bells and loud trumpets. I usually associate it to the scene in Elf where Will Farrell decorates the toy store — who knew? 

After I discovered that there was no dialogue in the show, I became more attuned to the music that filled the space.  

While in today’s movies and TV shows music is used to balance the ongoing action, I found that The Nutcracker’s score gave me a chance to better appreciate the dancing.

Although I know nothing about how ballet is accomplished, one thing is for sure — the dancing is captivating. The women flew across the stage and the men jumped and spun higher than I thought was possible. Even though I didn’t know the storyline, through their movements across the stage and both body and facial expressions, I could pick it up pretty easily. 

Every few minutes, I found myself asking my girlfriend how the dancers did certain moves, or my most often question — how they didn’t get dizzy. Even though I was in awe of the endless pirouettes from my seat, I was getting nauseous. I learned the importance of spotting — keeping your eyes glued on one spot while spinning around again and again — and how ballet dancers use it to their advantage so they don’t get dizzy. 

If only university students could do that after a late night on the town. 

While the dancing made the show stand out, the pageantry was on another level. With the detailed costumes and ostentatious sets, I felt as if I was transported back in time. Even though the remote-controlled rat made people laugh, the overall feel of the ballet placed me in a time before 2016. Rather than being asleep in downtown Toronto, I was glued to the dream world of The Nutcracker.

This world was something I’d hear about here and there, but nothing that ever really grabbed my attention. But during this show the finesse, action and dance kept me from the sleep I thought I was doomed for. 

I walked into The National Ballet with a pretty empty mind, but left with an appreciation for the art of ballet. Although this ballet was created in the nineteenth century, I can understand why it has regained popularity and stood the test of time.

Unfortunately, I don’t see myself actively searching out another ballet in the near future. When it was over I turned to my girlfriend and asked, “Do other ballets have words?”

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