Wednesday, December 07, 2016

One Christmas Eve... The Nutcracker based on George Blanchine's Ballet, illustrated by Valeria Docampo

It was Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum's House, and like children everywhere, Marie and Fritz were so excited that they could feel their toes tingling.

For kids everywhere, Christmas Eve is a magical time, a time when the real and the fantastical seem to overlap, to blend together, as they have for many years in performances of the ballet of The Nutcracker.

The main character, a young girl named Marie, receives a beautiful nutcracker in military uniform as a gift, and she loves it, even when her mischievous brother Fritz manages to break its jaw right away. A kind family friend bandages the nutcracker and promise to return and repair it later.

When the wonderful party ends with dancing around the tree, Marie takes the nutcracker to her bedroom and falls into a deep, dreaming sleep, which takes her into a glorious fantasy. In her dream the Nutcracker becomes a handsome prince who defeats the Mouse King and takes his crown, inviting Marie to fly with him to his Kingdom of Sweets, where she is entertained by glorious dancers--The Sugar Plum Fairy and a gala troup of waltzing flowers.

In this season's newest version of E.T.A. Hoffman's classic tale, The Nutcracker (Little Simon, 2016), the old story is illustrated in art nouveau-styled elongated figures, swirling costumes of silvery white and gold, and scenes illuminated by stagy lighting. Valerie Docampo's artwork is flowing and theatrical, with the illusion of movement that the recreation of a ballet requires. Moreover, this version of the classic recreates the sense of the New York City Ballet's re-creation of George Balanchine's famous ballet, perfect for sharing with a child who will be privileged to see The Nutcracker Ballet during the pre-Christmas season. As a bonus for young balletomanes, Little Simon offers an appendix, "George Balanchine's Fun Facts" about the production.

There are many versions of The Nutcracker, some with simplified story and jolly illustrations with a non-scary Mouse King, and some in lovely paintings or faithfully realistic photographs from performances, including the inimitable Maurice Sendak's Nutcracker, Susan Jeffer's beautiful Caldecott Honor version, The Nutcracker, and the whimsically rosy-cheeked Mary Engelbreit's Nutcracker.

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