There are two things that most people who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley associate with the holiday season- tamales and The Nutcracker ballet. Local dance companies have performed the ballet annually for decades, and most of us who grew up in McAllen remember seeing it at least once or twice on school field trips. (Or maybe it was as a reward for good behavior; I can’t remember for sure.) For me, the ballet is a permanent part of fond childhood memories of Christmas.
This year, however, for the first time ever, McAllen was treated to a performance by the Moscow Ballet of The Great Russian Nutcracker, set to Tchaikovsky’s classic musical score. The dancing was fantastic, the costumes were beautiful, the sets were amazing, and the old McAllen Civic Center Auditorium was packed! (Let’s hope that the new auditorium will be ready in time for another performance next year.) If the attendance and enthusiasm at this ballet was any indication, the Rio Grande Valley is more than ready for a more vibrant arts and cultural scene.
This particular performance of The Great Russian Nutcracker was interesting because there were some small variations from the traditional version- mostly in character and place names, but there was one change that any true fan will notice. There was no Sugar Plum Fairy, or visions of sugar plums dancing in anyone’s head, or on stage- instead there was the Dove of Peace, beautifully portrayed by two featured artists dancing together to form one dove. The magical land that Masha and the Nutcracker Prince visit is called the “Land of Peace and Harmony” in the Moscow Ballet version, instead of the “Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy” as in the traditional version. Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, Russian, and French emissaries dance the traditional dances of their country, as in the original version. However, instead of representing candy (Russia), chocolate (Spain), tea (China), and coffee (Arabia), they represent their country’s heritage. Also, emissaries fromFrance replace the Mirliton (reed pipe) dancers, and the giant grandmother with the children under her skirt (which I always found creepy) is gone. This gives the story a bit of a modern update and more relevance in our world.
One of the best parts about this performance is that in each of the 75 cities on its North American tour, the Moscow Ballet partners with a local dance company and features local dancers in the performance. For the McAllen performance, they partnered with The Royal Dance Center in Mission. As part of the Moscow Ballet’s “Dance With Us” program, local dancers were given the opportunity to audition and perform as Party Children, Mice, Snowflakes, Angels, and more.
If you are also a ballet enthusiast, like at least two of us librarians on staff are, you can learn more about it at the McAllen Public Library! Read more about the history of ballet and famous dancers, listen to famous ballet musical scores on CD, or watch famous ballets on DVD or Blu-Ray. Check out the following titles:
The Ballet Lover’s Companion by Zoe Anderson
No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century by Nancy Reynolds
Ballet 422 directed by Jody Lee Lipes
Dance + Fashion edited by Valerie Steele
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince
To Dance Like a Man directed by Sylvie Collier
Mao’s Last Dancer directed by Bruce Beresford
The Painted Girls: A Novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan