National Dances in The Nutcracker Ballet

National Dances in The Nutcracker Ballet

The audience always admires the second act of The Nutcracker ballet, as it is adorned with a flamboyant divertissement of national dances. Anastasia Isaeva, an IngoDance expert, explains what to pay attention to, if you are thinking about art rather than looking for inconsistencies with the modern agenda in the production created many years ago.

The history behind The Nutcracker ballet was fraught with difficulties. Having started the work on the ballet, Marius Petipa quitted soon, and the production was completed by the second choreographer, Lev Ivanov. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky also had great difficulty composing the music. In one of his letters, he wrote:

"The main thing is to get rid of the ballet."

When Tchaikovsky was working on The Nutcracker, his sister died and he was grieving the loss. Many researchers of Pyotr Ilyich's work believe that this is precisely why sad notes are heard in the main adagio of the second act.

Starting from the beginning of the 20th century, multiple versions of The Nutcracker have been staged. Today, the production experiences hard times: accused of political incorrectness, due to the audience complaints about stereotypical images of people of other nationalities, the ballet was completely removed from the repertoire of the Berlin State Opera this year. 

There are a great number of ballet versions; divertissements in them vary choreographically too. We are going to take Yuri Grigorovich's version as an example; luckily, you can still see it at the Bolshoi Theater nowadays.

The Spanish Dance

The second act of The Nutcracker takes place in the magical land of Confiturenburg (The Land of Sweets). The divertissement begins with the Spanish Dance, which is associated with chocolate. The dance is staged with characteristic features: hands raised up and elbows lowered down, resulting in an incorrect second position if compared to the canon generally accepted in classical dance. In some pas, the legs are not turned out stylizing positions characteristic of the Spanish dance. Grigorovich found non-standard solutions for other usual movements as well: he combined an assemble with the leg opening in ecarte and alternated the final fouetté with a jump creating a special dynamic in the dance. And since the Spanish Dance is performed by a pair, the synchronicity of the elements creates a harmony that impresses the viewers immensely.

The Arabian Dance

The impetuous Spanish Dance is followed by the Eastern or Arabian Dance, which is also called "Coffee". The musical accompaniment is based on a Georgian lullaby. Here, you should look at how the seemingly conventional positions of the arms (in the first or in the third position) change completely following the change in the hands position. The grand plie and adagio with changing poses - ecarte and attitude - performed with the “eastern” hands, give you the impression of temple deities coming to life.

The Chinese Dance

The Arabian Dance is followed by the Chinese Dance - the one that has just been accused of political incorrectness. Nevertheless, bright musical accents are reflected choreographically using the double tours in the male part and pirouette with pas de bourrée in the female part. Even though the dance is short, it requires technical skill from the artists as they need to repeat the same element many times. It ends with a circle of jete, while the female performer does sauté with her legs in the second position and her feet flexed, which rarely can be seen in classical ballets but always elicits applause from the audience.

The Russian Dance

The choreography of the Russian Dance is stylized using flexed feet - all steps are performed heel to toe - and arms bent elbows down with straightened palms. Moreover, all grand pirouettes and tour chaines are done against the classical ballet rules. Pay attention to how masterfully the national dances are stylized: the modified elements don’t provoke rejection or violate aesthetics as all the pas consist of canonical movements.

The French Dance

The French Dance (or the Dance of the Shepherds) in the version by Yuri Grigorovich is performed with a lamb tied with a ribbon that is part of the choreographic composition.

They often perform this number in ballet academies because it includes a set of moves from the ABC of classical dance. It is filled with cabriole, immediately followed by arabesques and pas de bourrée with pas suivi - such sequences of different movements require the dancers to be extremely precise in their performance. The adagio elements give place to a technically complex round of pas de basques with pique tours, followed by a diagonal grand jete giving the dancers an opportunity to demonstrate the entire arsenal of ballet pas.

The divertissement ends with a coda of all the dances, which gives a feeling of a single composition and prepares the audience for the further development of the plot.