Moving Words

San Francisco's Dance-Along Nutcracker
photo: Yale University Press
San Francisco's Dance-Along Nutcracker

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Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World
By Jennifer Fisher
Yale University Press, 230 pp., $27
This highly personal book-length essay begins as a history of the original 1892 production of The Nutcracker in St. Petersburg, swings into a cultural analysis of 20th-century productions in North America, and concludes as a meditation on the meaning of the ballet as an annual ritual for our time and place. Threading through it are the rather casually reported results of interviews with dancers, staff, and members of the audiences for James Kudelka's Nutcracker at the National Ballet of Canada and for the Nutcracker produced annually by the Loudoun Ballet in Virginia. The five chapters are separated by brief memoirs relating to the author's own theatrical experiences. At its best, Nutcracker Nation—an expansion of Fisher's doctoral thesis—recalls the philosophical approach in Selma Jeanne Cohen's Next Week, Swan Lake. Unfortunately, it's elusive about dance details, such as who choreographed the Loudoun Nutcracker and where that person learned the choreography. For all its invocation of tradition and ritual, its presentation of the ballet's own traditions is alarmingly superficial.
 
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