Yes, it’s time to revisit these familiar characters again in The Nutcracker Ballet, presented this year on Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. by the Knox Concert Series. The presentation will be at the Anniston Performance Center on the campus of Anniston High School. This is the 28th year Knox has brought The Nutcracker to Anniston.
Characters in the story have become so much a part of our Christmas and our spirit of giving that we simply cannot do without them. The Sugar Plum Fairy warmly welcomes Clara and her prince to the Land of Sweets, and dances for them. Clara’s mysterious godfather Drosselmyer, dressed in black with a patch over his eye, seems frightening at first. But he is really kind, and gives Clara the most important present of all: a Nutcracker, in the form of a handsome soldier. Once this Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King in Clara’s dream, he is transformed into a prince and contributes romance and enchantment to Clara’s life.
And who can forget the presence of Mother Ginger, a well-known personality from French folklore, or the floating movements by the Angels, who add to the dream-like quality of Act 2, or the exotic costumes of the Candy Canes, and clowns, called Polichinelles? They all express their joy over the prince’s defeating the Mouse King by their exuberant dance styles from around the world.
Regular viewers at each year’s ballet say they see something different each December. Some notice new devices of Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s musical genius, such as the bell-like tones of the celeste (a small piano that had just been invented back in the 1890s) that the composer obtained secretly in Paris. He made use of it during the Sugar Plum Fairy’s celebrated dance. Also, the wind instruments’ choir produces just the unusual sounds needed as Drosselmyer brings his animated dolls to life. “The Waltz of the Flowers,” intense and happy at the same time, is characteristic of his melodic workmanship. And still others look forward to seeing a grandchild on stage.
The ballet, first presented in 1892 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the Imperial Theatre, is known for its special effects. Letters to Knox from elementary school children who attended the free performance last year speak volumes on mysterious things they saw happen on stage.
“Just one thing,” Jalen, a girl from Piedmont Elementary School points out. “How do they make the furniture move without touching it?” How, indeed? And there are other surprises. The Christmas tree grows, and grows, and such enormous mice on stage are mind-boggling. At the Sugar Plum party after the ballet, snowflakes drift down on dancers and guests who meet and greet on stage.
This is the fourth year Knox has invited the Alabama Ballet, a company that performs the George Balanchine story and choreography.
“It’s really wonderful for us that we have in Alabama a company that is licensed to do this version,” said Mandy King, President of the Knox Auxiliary Board. “It is televised on various channels every year, so our young people see it and can relate to it.” The Alabama Ballet is one of seven companies in the world — and the only one in the Southeast — that performs the Balanchine choreography. Balanchine, who was trained with the Saint Petersburg Imperial Ballet, founded the New York City Ballet with his partner Lincoln Kirstein. The New York City Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker has become a tradition since its first performance on Feb. 2, 1954. This production was filmed in 1993.
The story about a little girl’s dream, based on a German fairytale of old, is still part of our culture today. Seeing it is to receive a gift that keeps on giving, and one that should be slowly unwrapped and enjoyed.
Tickets are $12 for children, $20 for adults and $30 for reserved seating. They may be purchased by calling Pam McKenzie at 256-832-4554. Tickets are on sale at Anniston Chamber of Commerce, Tyson Art and Frame, Golden Springs Pharmacy, Rabbit Hutch, Couches in Anniston and Oxford, Noble Bank in Anniston and Oxford, Farmers and Merchants Bank of Jacksonville, and the Gadsden Chamber of Commerce. To purchase tickets for the Sugar Plum Party, call Sheila Lindley at 256-835-6012.