When people think of the Christmas ballet “The Nutcracker”, they often remember their childhoods. They drift to nostalgic times filled with sugar plum fairies, giant candies, and anthropoid sachets of tea and coffee. But when I think of “The Nutcracker”, I remember the Mouse King.
“The Nutcracker” ballet is based on an old story. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa, and Lev Ivanov originally adapted it from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 tale Nussknacker und Mausekönig (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King), and it was first danced in St. Petersburg, Russia in December of 1892. Though the ballet changes from production to production, it typically tells the story of a young girl, Clara, who receives the gift of a nutcracker from her magical godfather Drosselmeyer. During the night, all of the toys come to life. The Nutcracker battles an army of mice then transforms into a Prince who takes Clara to the fantastical Land of the Sweets where various dances occur.
Viewing “The Nutcracker” was an annual (sometimes more than annual) tradition at my house. We had an old recording of a performance of “The Nutcracker” featuring dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and I adored it. I watched it endlessly, and whenever I see a live production of the ballet, it never seems quite right because it doesn’t match the version I grew up with.
As a child, I loved to dance along with the production. I never wanted to be Clara, or the Sugar Plum Fairy, or the Nutcracker, or even Drosselmeyer. No, I wanted to be the Mouse King. I would don a throw that I wore like a royal mantle, would raise my arms, and would throw myself across the living room in the mincing steps that the mice always seemed to make. Something about the Mouse King’s energy, the way he leapt and flourished, drew me more than the motions of the story’s protagonists. (And the Mouse King had such a fabulous crown.)
Though I no longer prance around my living room pretending to be a giant mouse, that interest in the antagonist still permeates my life. When I write, I find myself drawn to the creatures that many people overlook. I think they have stories that are just as interesting as the tales of heroes.
This holiday season I think that I’ll return to “The Nutcracker” one more time. Maybe when no one is looking, I’ll even join the characters in their dances. After all, they will always be part of the winter season in my heart. It would be a shame not to offer them a bit of tribute.
Image Attribution: Courtesy of the Kentucky Performing Arts Center, Louisville Ballet, The Brown-Forman “Nutcracker”, 2011.
Kristen Twardowski works in sales and marketing for a small publisher. When not analyzing numbers, she writes her own fiction and is excited to be publishing her first full-length novel. She also blogs about the publishing industry, books, and the craft of writing. You can find Kristen online at https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/