A couple years ago I went to a local production of the Nutcracker and noticed the same dancer was performing the roles of the Nutcracker and the Cavalier. I figured it must be because there are just not that many male dancers available and so they were doubling up on roles. Or it was a budget cut. Or something. But surely they are not the same person because that would mean that the Nutcracker, who was just rescued by the lovely Clara, already has a thing going with the Sugar Plum Fairy. And that would not be okay.
When I first watched the Nutcracker, as a child, I was totally sucked into the story. I was sure that Clara had found her one true love in the Nutcracker Prince and they would live happily ever after in the land of the sweets. Even if it was just a dream, it was clearly one of those life-changing dreams.
This year I took the kids to see Boston Ballet perform the Nutcracker. While I was there, I happened to notice that they, too, had the same dancer for both roles. And that's just wrong. Poor Clara, thinking she's on a date with her prince and then realizing that not only is she in her nightgown, but her prince has taken her to the home of the Sugar Plum Fairy who is wearing a killer tutu and clearly has the hots for him.
Have I been confused all these years? Is it really about a little girl who, although she has just saved the prince, is still just a little girl and is treated as such in the company of the adult Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince?
I am sure that's not the case, so I finally dug out a copy of E.T.A. Hoffman's story and read it to the kids. I took out some of the parts, where mice were threatening to bite babies in half and soldiers were losing their heads. It took us a couple weeks, reading a chapter every night.
And it turns out, I was right. At the very end, after the dream that is not a dream, the prince comes and asks her to marry him. She does. The end.
And I think this is why I have such a hard time with Christmas. It seems to me that Christmas should at least be a life-changing dream, and not just something in which we are treated like children. It's been passed off as something else for so long, we've lost sight of the real story.
There is so much that goes into it. So much promise and hope. And then? It's over. I want it to be more like the Hoffman story, with something indisputable at the end. That life will somehow be more magical than it was yesterday. That we will all, at the end of the day, live in a place where houses are made of marzipan and no one says things just to be mean.
I keep thinking that within the Nutcracker is the answer to everything. That there's some metaphysical hard nut that holds the secret of the season. I dated the mouse king briefly many years ago. He had no answers.
But I know they're there.
The story of The Hard Nut, which explains why the nutcracker has to kill the mouse king is here.