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How did The Nutcracker become popularised during Christmas?

Updated: Mar 23

Have you ever wondered how wooden nutcracker dolls become popularised during Christmas? In the late 17th century, far away in the Ore Mountains (German: Erzgebirge) that lie along the Czech–German border, Erzgebirge craftsmen chiselled grim-mouthed wooden nutcracker dolls that were caricatured with authority. These dolls were commonly given to children as Christmas presents. According to German legend, the possession of nutcracker dolls in households was supposedly to ward off evil spirits and usher good luck into the home.

Nutcrackers made by the Füchtner family. Photo Credit: The Australian Ballet

The hub of production of nutcracker dolls remains to this day in Erzgebirge where the oldest of the workshops, run by the Füchtner family, proudly traces its origins back to Gotthelf Friedrich Füchtner (the reputed “Father of the Nutcracker”).

Further popularisation of nutcracker dolls came about in the 1892 ballet adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Since then, Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet The Nutcracker became a quintessential festive performance during Christmas. During this time of the year, ballet companies worldwide present their staging of The Nutcracker and balletomanes never fail to miss another run of the ballet even if they have watched it several times.

To get into the festive mood, there's no better way to do so than to organise Studio by Raquel Yeo's inaugural Ballet Appreciation Series: The Nutcracker variation workshop. On 11 and 12 December 2021, eight participants came together and were inducted to the story of The Nutcracker. After which, they learnt an improvised variation of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Act II, third movement in The Nutcracker pas de deux).

In Act II of The Nutcracker, Clara (or Marie in George Balanchine's adaptation) and the Nutcracker Soldier, who has now magically transformed into a Prince after a curse has been lifted off him, arrive at the Land of Sweets. They meet its monarch, the Sugar Plum Fairy, who receives them as valued guests. She welcomes them with an assortment of confectionary dances - a line-up of performances by humanised Chinese Tea, Arabian coffee, Spanish chocolates. Finally, it comes to the pinnacle of the entertainment - the solo dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. She ends the night with an enchanting number as she dances to the music led by the bell-like celesta (Tchaikovsky discovered the instrument and appreciated the novelty of its ethereal sound. He kept the purchase a secret before showcasing it for the ballet's premiere in St. Petersburg).

Day 1 | 11 Dec 2021

Day 2 | 12 Dec 2021

I'm looking forward to organising more Ballet Appreciation Series workshops for all of you. Which ballet would you like to learn next? Let me know in the comment box below.

Here's wishing you a blessed Christmas and a joyful new year!





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