The Nutcracker, performed by by the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza in 2010Wikimedia commons

The grand orchestra, soft yet bold, that sways to a coalescing crescendo in Tchaikovsky’s ‘March’ in The Nutcracker instantly conjures up Christmas spirit for me. The Nutcracker is integrally Christmassy to me and I adore it as it holds such sentimental magic, wonder, beauty and enchantment. I first became acquainted with The Nutcracker through the iconic Barbie adaptation (I do hope I’m not the only one) in which Barbie plays the central character, Clara. Cute, quirky, pink and marvellous, the Barbie adaption conveys the story of The Nutcracker fantastically.

The story is based on the 1816 ETA Hoffmann fantasy story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, with the first staging of the ballet happening in 1892. Set on Christmas Eve, the story follows a young girl named Clara, who wakes up to find her toys brought to life, including a nutcracker gifted to her by her godfather. A battle is waged between them and the evil mouse king, and they journey through magical, dreamy new worlds, in which audiences experience a variety of different beautiful, gorgeous characters and their dances. I was beyond lucky to have experienced a performance of the ballet during my childhood which my grandma took me to that was so impactful for me. I fell even further in love with the story and its Christmas magic.

“I hope that everyone can fall in love with The Nutcracker”

Even if the ballet itself doesn’t explicitly resonate, I think The Nutcracker percolates on everyone’s psyche, at least a little. The ballet solidified itself and its music as Christmas staples and accessible, stunning classic music. The iconic ‘Trepak’ (Ukrainian folk dance inspired and influenced) makes its way into many Christmas films, encapsulating the Christmas chaotic rush. It’s lively, joyful and incredibly festive; I think many recognise the iconic song and feel that Christmas glee. Not too long ago I watched two popular TikToks that noted the beauty of the music by Tchaikovsky. Many of the songs are instantly recognisable through their prominence in the cultural sphere; the gorgeous and ethereal ‘Pas de Deux’, the twinkling, light, entrancing and rhythmically astonishing sway of the ‘Waltz of the flowers’ and the iconic light and playful tingle of the ‘Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy’ are particularly famous examples that have become quintessential Christmas songs. It has also inspired film adaptations, including most recently The Nutcracker (2018) as well as Barbie in The Nutcracker (2001), a Tom and Jerry take and the Carebears’ 1988 spin on the tale. Of course, there is also often a video recorded or live recorded version of the Royal Ballet made accessible for online viewing.

The Nutcracker at the Cambridge Junction Rosie Powell

This year, at the Cambridge Junction, company Moxie Braw presented their new take on The Nutcracker that they describe as being a “completely alternative retelling”. Exciting, unique, “punk” and very modern, they describe it as being a story of “self-acceptance and self-expression”. Most importantly, it is self-described as “all-inclusive”, with BSL interpretation seamlessly intertwined and access notes on the website. Ballet isn’t for everyone understandably, and I think it is really beautiful and important that shows can revamp and retell the special story in a way that’s inclusive for everyone.



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Indeed, The Nutcracker isn’t free from criticism having been criticised for moments within the story that present cultural appropriation. Recently, The Scottish Ballet revised the show to address this racism, aiming to make “everyone feel represented and celebrated” and “welcome”. It is fiercely important to recognise that it is completely appalling that there was ever racism in the show. Any and every show and industry needs to continue to address any historic racism or cultural appropriation present in the original, adapt and systemically dismantle it, and continue to include and represent everyone, making the ballet accessible for all. The fundamental story and its Christmas connotations are so beautiful; it should be an inclusive, accessible and a joyful experience for everyone.

With themes of childhood wonder and magic, dreams and toys, and of course Christmas, along with a little sentimental sparkle, stunning music, and a one-of-kind story, I hope that everyone can fall in love with The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker is showing at the Cambridge Junction until 31 December.