Dancing snowflakes and Nutcrackers, battling mice and squabbling children, it’s that time of year. For ballet lovers around the world, if it’s December, its Nutcracker season.
Although the ballet was considered a failure when it was first performed in 1892, it has become one of the most widely performed productions in the world.
The director of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in St Petersburg commissioned Alexandre Dumas to adapt German author E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King into a story for a ballet, which was set to a score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. French choreographer Marius Petipa choreographed the two-act ballet.
While Tchaikovsky’s luscious The Nutcracker Suite was a hit as a concert piece, Petipa famously complained that the ballet score was too difficult to dance to. It languished in the Russian repertoire — and that of a few other companies — until New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine created a new production for his troupe in 1954. Balanchine’s production continues to be a staple of the holiday season in New York City and the foundation for various other versions of the show around the world.
This year the National Taiwan University of Arts has stepped forward to provide a true Christmas treat for dance lovers and children in Taipei. The school’s Grand Dance Theater and Grand Symphony Orchestra are performing The Nutcracker at the National Theater tonight through Sunday afternoon. They kicked off their production — which boasts more than 200 performers, brand new costumes and scenery at a cost of NT$10 million (US$309,000) — with a special performance last night to benefit a host of local charities and orphanages.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara and the gift of a very special nutcracker in the shape of a soldier that she receives from her godfather at a Christmas Eve party at her parent’s house. Act One centers on the party and Clara’s receiving her gift. She sneaks back downstairs after the party to take another look at her new doll but falls asleep under the Christmas tree. She awakens to find herself surrounded by the Mouse King and his troops. The Nutcracker comes to her defense, leading a group of toy soldiers. The Nutcracker emerges victorious, with help from Clara, and turns into a prince.
The prince whisks Clara away to the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy — sometimes called the Kingdom of the Sweets — which is where Act Two opens. This is the section of the ballet that has all the most recognizable melodies and dances: the Spanish, Arabian and Russian dances, the Waltz of the Flowers and the wonderfully grand Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.
Even if you don’t want to dance yourself, this is one ballet that is almost impossible not to like.
If you go to The Nutcracker this weekend — or even if you don’t, take some time to go through the Discover the Gulliver (紙風車格列佛人體藝術探索館) exhibition erected this week in the plaza between the National Theater and the Concert Hall.
The 60m-long, 7m-high, 12 tonne inflatable Gulliver’s Paper Windmill Museum, was made by the Paper Windmill Cultural Foundation in the shape of Lemuel Gulliver, the main character in Jonathan Swift’s 18th century novel Gulliver’s Travels.
The foundation created the NT$10 million (US$30,000) traveling museum to help children learn about human anatomy as well as Swift’s classic tale.
Visitors enter the exhibition through a hole in Gulliver’s foot. Inside are telephone-pole-sized bones, a stomach full of food, a large intestine laid out like a maze, a pumping heart and lungs that blow air. You can climb up into the giant’s head for a close up view of his teeth, including some cavities, nostrils and brains and a stairway that takes you up onto his forehead for a Lilliputian view of the entire balloon.
“Older brother and sister” guides are on hand to explain the internal workings of humans. The tour takes 10 to 15 minutes.
The exhibition is recommended for children aged 3 and up, however, it is not baby stroller or wheelchair accessible.
Gulliver was exhibited in the Wenshin Forest Park in Taichung in April. The exhibition opened in Taipei yesterday and runs through Jan. 3. It is open from 9am to 9pm and admission is NT$50.
The Paperwindmill Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization for the performing arts, especially children’s theater, created Gulliver as a gift for the children of Taiwan, but like The Nutcracker, he’s really for all ages.
WHAT: The Nutcracker, Grand Dance Theater, Grand Symphony Orchestra of National Taiwan University of Arts
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: The only tickets left are NT$1,200 and NT$1,600 for tonight and tomorrow and NT$1,600 for Sunday, available through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
WHAT: Discover the Gulliver (紙風車格列佛人體藝術探索館)
WHEN: Now through Jan. 3, open 9am to 9:30pm daily
WHERE: NTCH plaza, 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$50, available at the site (to control the number of visitors, online sales have been discontinued) between 9am and 8pm
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