This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every moring: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion saith my soul: therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3: 21-26

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nutcracker Nation—a Book Review

Nutcracker Nation by Jennifer Fisher

I had this book on my Fall into Reading list. I started this book at the beginning of the Fall into Reading Challenge. I just painfully finished the book last night. Ugh.

A friend of mine loaned me this book a long time ago. I wasn’t too hip on reading it, she and I have very different reading choices, but being a "Nutcracker Mom," I thought I might relate to it. And so I slogged my way through it. Very rarely do I finish books that I don’t enjoy—my “to read” pile is to high and my time is to limited to do so often, but I had told my friend I would read it. What do do? Press on...

Jennifer Fisher, the author, is a teacher of dance history, theory, and ethnology at Pomona College and the University of California, Irvine. From her writing I gather she danced more than a few Nutcrackers herself. Sadly she seems to be unintentionally stuck in the boys vs. girls’ camp that clings to ballet, especially at the amateur level. She attempts to explore the differences between male and female dancers, but it is very stereotypical and flat.

There was very little discussion of Tchaikovsky, himself although definitely history of how the ballet grew from its Russian roots at the Mariinsky Theater.

The more interesting parts of the book are where the different faces of Nutcracker are explored across the continent. Nutcracker has been adapted socially and culturally many times to interesting outcomes. Ms. Fisher has researched her history admirably. She says:

Although the ballet world, even on the amateur level, is far from egalitarian, this seems to be one way The Nutcracker is imagined by its participants—as a welcoming utopian community. This vision is supported by the idea that anyone can pursue the ideal forms inherent in ballet technique and be affected by the potentially transformational music of Tchaikovsky, while at the same time celebrating the themes of home, hearth, and adventure. And when people feel shut out of the ballet world, with all its particular history and stringent requirements, they can take The Nutcracker into their own domains, tweak it, dress it up differently, and bring it closer to home.

Perhaps it is my own lackluster attitude this year, perhaps it is the boys vs. girls attitude that has, sadly infested our school this year, perhaps I’ve “matured” in my view of the Nutcracker, but this book didn’t make me want to run out and see another one. But as Ms. Fisher concludes:

Like birthdays and weddings, the annual ballet is both dreaded and celebrated because it marks the passage of time. Once you surrender to that inevitability, you can shift gears and enjoy the endless possibilities. The Nutcracker isn’t just another aesthetic performance, although it certainly can be that. It’s also a wonderfully flexible, ritual-like, resonant phenomenon.

She is right, and I see this in the professional dancers that my children are fortunate to get to dance with, after about your twentieth or so Nut you start to grumble a little (as a volunteer and parent it only took three). But when the overture starts, you sigh and give in and let Pyotr Ilyich take over for a bit and things seem a bit sweeter.

This book would not be a recommended one, unless you are a serious student of ballet history and culture. The author’s research is faultless. She has dug deeply, but it reads more like a textbook than a book for enjoyment. Now…what to tell my friend?

You are welcome to view my other reviews and posts for the Fall Into Reading Challenge.

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