Fantasia is among my all-time favourite films. Fantasia 2000 includes Rhapsodie in Blue and The Firebird, but I am especially fond of the Nutcracker sequence from the original 1940’s version. The 1940 film was neither a box office nor critical success, and it predated the 1944 American premiere performance of the Tchaikovsky ballet.. Who would have guessed!
My favourite traditional ballet version of the Nutcracker Suite is the one created by Maurice Sendak for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company (Seattle). The PNB version goes beyond pretty and perfect. It has the edgeiness, the mysterious irony, that captures the weirdness of E.T.A.Hoffman’s strange stories! Hoffman, who died in 1822, was a German Romantic author of fantasy and horror stories. These were very influential during the 19th century, and he is one of the major authors of the Romantic movement. Sendak’s unsentimental view of childhood and exaggerated caricatures originally made some adults squeamish about using his children’s books. The kids loved them. Sendak and Hoffman would have liked each other.
Here are two clips. Talk about scary… the Mouse King puppet is 27 feet tall! The first clip features exotic dances…the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances from “The Divertisement”. The second is the pas de deux with Clara and the Nutcracker.
And for christmas eve, or christmas afternoon, here is the film of the entire production. It is an hour and a half long. The visual details of Drosselmeyer’s workshop during the overture are particularly interesting… steampunk plus Sendak, plus Tchaikovsky!