NUTCRACKER by E. T. A. Hoffmann
Kirkus Star


Email this review


The transformation of the venerable Nutcracker ballet begun by Sendak and choreographer Kent Stowell for the 1983 Pacific Northwest Ballet production is carried through, in this volume, with Ralph Manheim's translation of the original Hoffmann story, ""The Nutcracker and the Mouse King""--including its central tale-within-a-tale, ""The Story of the Hard Nut."" Psychoanalytically-aware adults have long recognized the erotic symbolization of elderly Godfather Drosselmeier, prepubescent Clara (here Marie), and ""the Nutcracker."" But the ballet has no apparent dramatic shape--consisting in essence of one pantomime scene (the Christmas Eve party at the Stahlbaums) and two scenes of almost pure dancing (Clara/Marie's magical journey and the delights of Candytown). And children's books of The Nutcracker have been ""the story of the ballet."" Integrating Sendak's designs for the scenery and costumes, the present work retains the sense of a theatrical production--but not of a spectacle or delectation. ""The Story of the Hard Nut,"" which Drosselmaier tells Marie after the Mouse King's defeat of Nutcracker's army (from the Nutcracker's advent, all darkly shaded), features the transformation of infant Princess Pirlipat into a hideous nutcracker baby--a Sendakian theme-of-themes--who can be restored to herself only by eating the kernel of the hard nut Krakakut, which can only be cracked by an unshaven youth; and the last-minute crimp in this process, by vengeful Madame Mouserinks, sets the stage for the main-plot annihilation of the Mouse King, the restoral of the Nutcracker to his youthful, unshaven self, and his betrothal to Marie. Some wordless pictorial pages carry the major ballet passages; but most of the illustrations consist of marginal drawings. It is perhaps better so: the one full-page depiction of a dramatic scene in ""The Story of a Hard Nut"" looks paste-boardy, more ludicrous than horrifying. (In vapid, naturalistic color, Sendak always loses force.) Elsewhere the pictorial matter helps to bring out the many facets and dimensions of the story, and its stage associations--but, to everyone's credit, the story takes precedence here.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Crown