What, no Sugar Plum Fairy? That's just one of many changes Madison Ballet is making to its annual production of The Nutcracker at the Overture Center for the Arts. Also gone will be the Snow Queen and others.
"The major change in The Nutcracker is going to be to the story line," says artistic director and choreographer W. Earle Smith. "The reason why I'm doing it is that it's really a little more in line with the story."
The 1892 ballet is based on an 1816 short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Action centers on a young girl, Clara, who's guided through a magical kingdom by her nutcracker doll.
Pyotr Tchaikovsy and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov changed the plot considerably for the Russian Imperial Theater. Hoffmann would hardly recognize the ballet's second act. For example, the Prussian author's prose story ends with Clara marrying the Nutcracker. In the ballet she merely sits on a couch watching others dance.
Madison Ballet is returning some of the romance. "In the battle scene, Clara will transform into a young woman," says Smith. "Then, what is typically the Snow pas de deux [duet] will be danced by Clara and the Nutcracker prince. It will almost be more of a love pas de deux, like 'Romeo and Juliet.'"
The "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" will similarly remain, but it will be performed by Jennifer Tierney as Clara. Tierney played Wendy in last season's Peter Pan ballet; Nikki Hefko, who played Peter, returns to alternate in Arabian and Dew Drop roles. The Spanish and Russian dances will be changed to solo works.
Other choreographers have gone back to the original "Nutcracker" story before, including Kent Stowell at Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet and Mikhail Baryshnikov at New York's American Ballet Theatre.
"I certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel," says Smith, "but I'd like to do something a little different, something interesting. Not only as a choreographer but as a dancer, I've been doing this since I was 16 years old. It will be refreshing. Also, it allows me to take the production to the next level and use dancers in different ways."
One change that definitely won't be made is to incorporate the tipsy, show-stopping parody of Nutcracker's "Waltz of the Flowers" that Smith created for Peter Pan.
"Let me tell you, you are not the first person to ask about that," he says, laughing.