December 2, 2020 at 5:25 pm #72319
This paper involves the concept of time and timing in this dance and the transcendent function. You can find it online in the e-zine in Depth Insights, Issue 10, Fall 2017. I will also cut and paste it here. Not sure about how the formatting will hold up as I cut and paste it. Some of the links to the movements in the dance that are discussed in this essay may not work any more; however, if you go to the reference section and click on the reference that is the Youtube video of the performance I am discussing, you can find those specific times/moments there in viewing the video. On Youtube you can search: Boshoi Ballet 2010 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
A Child’s Edenic Dream: “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in The Nutcracker Ballet
This essay offers a mythopoetic, Jungian analysis of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker, a popular ballet by Pyotr Iylich Tchaikovsky. First performed in December 1892 in St. Petersburg in Russia, it has since become a beloved Christmas tradition around the world. In the ballet’s Act Two of “Land of the Sweets,” the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is the embodiment of this ballet’s enchantment.
The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is one in a series of dances in a dream sequence of Clara, a young girl who is the protagonist in the narrative where each dance represents a holiday treat (coffee, tea, candies, flowers, gifts). The dream takes place within the larger frame of Clara’s waking world experience, making this an envelope story, enveloping the dream as something to hold dear as a teddy bear (or the Nutcracker), or one’s hopes and wishes for the sweet things in life.
While in the ballet the “Nutcracker Suite” dance sequence seems to represent Clara’s tender coming of age and awakening to romance, and while the setting is a lovely Christmas Eve party at the house of her family with plenty of happy guests enjoying laughter, gifts, and sweets, there are also darker themes within this fairy tale ballet: Even for a child in a family with plenty to celebrate that seems to want for nothing, life is not always so sweet. What we see in the ballet is the lighter version of the tale, but what perhaps few in the audience are aware of is that this tale was not always as sugar-coated as the sugar plums.
In its original form, before Tchaikovsky composed ballet music for it, it was a story by E.T.A. Hoffman (1918) entitled The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, a more nightmarish tale. In the original telling Clara experiences an unhappy loss of innocence and sense of sad disconnection from her family, and longs for her place under the sun. She feels her brother who is recklessly violent—who also breaks her toys—is favored by her parents; she feels her parents keep her waiting on a shelf like one of her dolls she is forced to keep up on the shelves. She is growing up, and would like to break free of her home life with her monstrous brother (who in her nightmare seems the Evil Mouse King) and her parents who seem to care little for her feelings. She longs for an Eden, a more paradisiac place on earth to live her life in tune with her desires.
Details to the themes of the story summarized here will unfold in the sections of this paper, described as follows: 1) a young girl’s Edenic longing in the The Nutcracker as highlighted in its “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” 2) analysis of archetypal mythic symbols in the dance; and 3) tales of my daughter’s, granddaughter’s, and my own personal myths (mythopoetic lived experience), as attuned to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Depth psychologist and mythologist/folklorist Dr. Jonathan Young (2016) described the term “Edenic longing” as an elusive “yearning” for something “just beyond our reach, always to be yearned for, but never quite arrived at,” what “drives our wandering,” and our “mythologizing of life” (Personal Communication, 2016). In German, the word sehnsucht expresses a type of “ardent loving,” “a compelling feeling,” (J. Young, Personal Communication, 2016) not easily translated. This indistinguishable “nostalgia for something” may be of an origin we may not be able to trace or understand, but may be “sometimes imagined as a far-off country—not exactly an earthly landscape we may find—but feels like home” (J. Young, Personal Communication, 2016). Mircea Eliade (1991/1952) called this longing for home “the nostalgia for Paradise” when he wrote:
By this we mean the desire to find oneself always and without effort in the Centre of the World, at the heart of reality; and by a short cut and in a natural manner to transcend the human condition, and to recover the divine condition—as a Christian would say, the condition before the Fall. (p. 55)
Eliade mentioned reality; it is useful to keep in mind that we are viewing a dream and while some do not regard dream material as reality, in a depth psychological frame, we can and do regard dreams as a reality in the psyche’s unconscious or inner reality. When a dream enters our consciousness (such as remembering one), it is perhaps near what C.S. Lewis described of his own experience of longing as “a memory of a memory” (J. Young, Personal Communication, 2016). When Clara journeys in her dream to the Land of the Sweets, she is called to her hero’s adventure to an otherworldly place, where her imagination posits her in what Young has described in regards to Edenic longing as a “life just beyond this one” (Personal Communication 2016).
Sometimes the life just beyond our reach is one of old world charm; perhaps many of us miss our belief in magic. As Marie-Louise von Franz (1995) wrote, “Magic is full of antique tradition and practices….of the…pagan past” (p. 66). We have our fantasy genre for that—many adults never outgrow their love of Disney. The acclaimed “greatest voice” of the twentieth century, W. B. Yeats (Yeats, 2002, n. p.), saddened by times of change, wrote many a poem to re-invoke Ireland’s pagan fairies and Druids. To quote a book title by Jung, Yeats was a Modern Man in Search of a Soul for the people of his time. Tchaikovsky, in his day, thought he had found it (soul) when he discovered an instrument called the celesta which he felt compelled to use to obtain an ethereal music box tone, which is “a keyboard instrument with a bell like sound,” which at the time was newly invented and mostly unheard (Resnikova, 2016, n. p.).
This paper involves some intertwined theories in the arts and humanities regarding embodied states of innocence and experience in the life of a child who readily plumbs the depths of the unconscious as expressed by William Blake, later discussed by poet and Jungian-based writer Robert Bly (1972) in Bly’s book entitled Leaping Poetry (pp. 1-6). Blake believed that in order to be creative we “must become like little children” (Bly, 1972, p. 2), meaning that for adults the world becomes stale whereas children see it anew, with wonder. This correlates to a main premise of Hoffman, who “was rebelling against…The Enlightenment and its emphasis on Rational Philosophy” (NPR Staff, 2012, n. p.) and “believed in reclaiming nature, reclaiming innocence” (NPR Staff, 2012, n. p.). Hoffman, like Blake, expressed the importance of keeping “in touch with the child within us” (NPR Staff, 2012, n. p.) Bly’s notion of what he calls “leaping poetry” is applicable in the arts in general—here I could call it “leaping dance.” Bly stated that good literature/poetry (art) takes leaps into the unconscious and back again (1972, pp. 1-6), the way a child’s imagination does. Bly’s theory is based upon Jung’s Shadow theory. In this tale a child has little freedom to play, to take leaps into her imagination when she would like. What needs to happen manifests in her dreams.
For What the Young Girl Clara Longs
The scene leading to Clara’s dream is this: Her parents throw a party for friends and family at their house, her uncle brings fantastic toys as always which this year for the children includes a nutcracker, the children “go nuts” over it, her brother breaks it, Clara is miserable over her loss, and no one seems to quite commiserate with her, even while though they say it can be fixed. This disrupts her Christmas bliss. In the ballet’s sweet version, this may seem a simple, common enough scenario in the life of a child in which conflicts and accidents happen with siblings; however, in Hoffman’s version, something with darker roots is going on from which the Sugar Plum Fairy’s magical plums will spring.
A broken toy can be devastating to a child. In this situation, her brother has struck a nerve—a complex in Clara’s psychic shadow—wide open, along with the Nutcracker’s mouth. She is sad for the Nutcracker and enraged at her sibling. Regarding anger and the shadow in fairy tales, von Franz wrote “one endures such a conflict until a solution is found. The creative solution would be something unexpected which decides the conflict on another level” (von Franz, 1995, p. 70). The Sugar Plum Fairy is Clara’s inner need, inner reality, inner solution. Her transcendent dance balances the poles of opposites of this problematic world with the other world of harmonious accord; it is a problem of how to maintain the impossible Edenic perfection obtained in that unworldly level once she awakes back to her daily consciousness on this level.
Meanwhile, Clara’s devastation is symbolized hideously in Hoffman’s version when he describes the “dreadful cracking sound” and the dislocated, hanging jaw of the Nutcracker (Hoffman, n. d./1918, chapter 3, para. 12). Her uncle says he can easily fix it, but Clara cannot so easily fix her anger or angry face. (As children we often are told not to make a mean, angry facial expression or it will freeze like that.) Her parents do seem to favor her brother’s more violent army-war play. She may also be struggling with her own anger, probably like most little girls being told to “be sweet.”
The Sugar Plum Fairy, however, can champion her, can triumph, can fix anything…even restore her Eden before this Fall, much like the elves repair everything on The Isle of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (See http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Gr6GbKciNCY)
This magic of repair is being done in both these tales by mythical beings of diminutive size to which small children can relate and feel they have some power or control over their fate1, and they strongly identify with their toys.
In the original version, Clara cannot often hold her toys because her parents require (order) her to organize (order) them in a precise manner in a glass encased shelf, better suited for expensive keepsakes. After the party, she does not want to put the Nutcracker away—she wants to hold and comfort him in his painful state “as if he were a small child” (Hoffman, n. d./1918, chapter 3, para. 20). Tired of confinement, she wishes for a life of her own liking, making, choosing. In the original tale, Clara dreams her dolls come to life; one asks if they will die there. (See Appendix I, “The Little Elf” poem, which describes the way a child relates to this.)
in the house, remarking they have been too preserved (Hoffman, n. d./1918, chapter 5, para. 9). Clara’s dolls that come to life are, like the doll in the story of “Vasilisa the Beautiful” (von Franz, 1995, pp. 192-96), symbolic of a young girl’s inner self, inner knowing, inner strength. Clara’s dolls assembled upon the shelf resemble her own life upon a shelf. The dancing Sugar Plum Fairy expresses the self-actualized individuation of these dolls, liberated from their restrictive existence; since Clara identifies with the dolls and their liberation the fairy is also Clara—Jung wrote, “No part of the hero-myth is single in meaning…and all the figures are interchangeable” (Jung, C. G., 1965 p. 390). Clara thus achieves important steps on her path of individuation once she dances her dream. In passages prior to the aforementioned quote by Eliade, he discusses how home and hearth can be that “Center of the World” (Eliade, 1991, p. 54), but Clara, unable to locate that center at home, in her psychic distress, summons The Sugar Plum Fairy from the deep vault of her very being.
Archetypal Mythic Symbols in “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”
The Sugar Plum Fairy is like a fairy godmother, dancing a numinous spell of contentment on Clara’s behalf. She dances Clara’s mandala in the dream, balances Clara’s mandala in the dream, and restores the child’s Eden. To view and listen to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= Wz _f9B4pPtg (Bolshoi Ballet, 2010). I will refer to minute frames within the video while discussing the dance and the musical composition by Tchaikovsky.
The sugar plum comfits are as comforts of Eden. It may seem simple that Clara’s bitterness turns to sweetness once free to satisfy her sweet tooth in the Land of the Sweets, for comfits with music comfort the savage beast; however, for Clara, the desire for freedom branches beyond a child’s typical complaint of not being allowed to eat all the candy she desires at the party—that is “just” symbolic of everything else. Consciously recognizing what “everything else” is perhaps is not easy for a child; when the Nutcracker breaks and the children cannot crack nuts anymore, the nuts become “tough nuts to crack.” A tough nut for Clara to crack is how to handle her anger and comfort herself, since no one else will. Dreams address states of being in our unconscious, having their “rhyme and reason.” What Jung called “the dream’s telos [is] the dream’s finalistic or purposive aspect, the direction in which it points, that for the sake of which the dream exists” (Berry, 1982, p. 81).
Fairies are the spirits (sprites) of flora and fauna. The Sugar Plum Fairy is not a plum; rather, she is the natural, spiritual intelligence or force behind the plum. She therefore is something inner, within.) To get in touch with the energy of the Sugar Plum Fairy subjectively (inward sensing), I bought a dozen plums and a bottle of exquisite plum wine. I also bought candy.
At the original tale’s time of 1816, during the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, “sugar plum” meant “comfit” (Kawash, 2010, n. p.) which befittingly sounds like “comfort.” These were, like a nut containing a seed within its shell, made by coating a nut kernel such as an almond or seed such as caraway with layers of flavored sugar-syrup then leaving it to dry and harden. The tough nuts to crack and the sugar plum comfits each contain a center, a hidden kernel of truth. Whether hidden by nature or by human hands enacting, natural (archetypal) patterns, there is hidden treasure if we plumb the depths, or go plum-meting them.
In the ballet music (minutes 1:27-1:40), we hear measures of sound I “see” as sugar (fairy dust) being sprinkled graciously over the kingdom like mana from heaven, and “see” as sweet, sparkling, psychic energy imbuing the very air.
The fairy’s tutu in the 2010 Bolshoi Nutcracker ballet is not purple or red like a plum, but is white, like vanilla sugar coating, stiffened like hardened coating, and round, extended outward like the sea’s treasure: a perfect circular pearl. The kernel of truth inside a smooth pearl is a grain of sand, layered with the gloss of the oyster’s irritation over the grain. A grain of truth is hidden well when inside the pearl inside the shell within the lake or sea. Here we have a sacrament of grace: Clara’s lesson, Clara’s sacrifice to make: She must with maturity learn to gloss her rage with a kinder, gentler face, not to be untrue to herself or false to others, but her terrible dream of warring factions was so powerful it permeated the walls between the worlds and she carried her battle-wound back into her waking world; this caused her an infection only the confection (or layered sweetness, truth therein) could remedy. The intent is not repression, for anger needs to be worked out somehow, such as dancing through psychic spheres of mandala, or creating visual art, such as stage designs.
The stage setting for this fanciful dance is a winter wonderland. The fairy’s tutu may symbolize a snowflake or water crystal, accentuated by the crystalline sound of the celesta—sugar granules are crystalline and do glitter too; and, as a comfit is blanketed with sugar the way a child is blanketed for comfort, so does the tutu spread out like a blanket of snow. There is a huge Yule tree in the background suggesting a sugar plum tree upon which all sorts of candy might grow. As a crystal of snow she could be the “Diamond Body” (Jung, 1990/1959, p. 358).
In the Land of the Sweets, when the Sugar Plum Fairy enters the dream stage, we are beholding a wondrous, numinous secret of the inner workings of the earth. The music fades in as if from a hidden place (minutes 0:09-0:18) announcing the steps of the arrival of the fairy. These same opening steps (minutes 0:09-0:18) also suggest time-keeping movements (a clock) to tell the special time this is, further accentuated by the staccato technique of both the music and the dance steps.
As she then stands as axis mundi, extending one leg to point with the tip of her toes her rhythmed semi-circular steps around herself, she shows she is positioned at the center of the earth. The circle she makes around herself can signify the circumference of the earth and four directions of the compass, claiming her rulership encompasses the vast kingdom of the land’s (earth’s) elements. She has just demonstrated that she “is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self” (Jung, 1990/1959, p. 357). Jung was fascinated by the three and the four, the circle and the square, and studied mandalas, a Sanskrit word meaning “circle[s]” (Jung, p. 355), which express the “squaring of a circle” (p. 357). When she twirls in a spiral dance (minutes 2:25-2:45) within the four pillars (directions) of the universe, she expresses “everlasting balance and immutable duration” (p. 358) of time and space—she is the spiral dance of life. We are enraptured with a moment of the infinite. All eyes are fixed on her spinning—the audience is transfixed.
While the Morality plays of the Greeks which induce catharsis, and while something that is released must come from inside, from within; here, we have penetrated the veil, to a mysterious realm revealed seemingly outside ourselves. Jung stated,
The work of the artist meets the psychic needs of the society in which he lives….To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us the way it has shaped him. Then we also understand the nature of his primordial experience. He has plunged into the healing and redeeming depths of the collective psyche where man is not lost in the isolation of consciousness and its errors and suffering, but where all men are caught in a common rhythm which allows the individual to communicate his feelings and strivings to mankind as a whole. (Jung, 1972, pp. 104-05.) Jung (1972) continued, “This re-immersion in the state of participation mystique is the secret of artistic creation” (p. 105).
My Personal Myth/Lived Experience with the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”
As a child, I took ballet lessons and loved The Nutcracker Suite, particularly the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, as did my mother, who played classical music records, who had speakers wired through the ceiling to another room/level so music would imbue the whole house.
My bedtime in early childhood was one half hour before “lights out.” I kept a stack of books on my nightstand and loved the poems and pondered the beauteous illustrations in The Big Golden Book of Poetry which I felt was the dreamiest book on earth. I adored Eugene Field’s (1949) “The Sugar Plum Tree”(See Appendix II), a bedtime story poem, illustrated by Gertrude Elliot, quite a peppermint twist on the tree of forbidden fruit in the Biblical Garden of Eden tale. I may never know what the forbidden fruit was, but “The Sugar Plum Tree” grows all kinds of candy “in the garden of Shut-Eye Town” (p. 44).
When my daughter was born, a family friend gifted her a musical snow globe in which The Sugar Plum Fairy danced to the song. I would wind it up to wind up the day to play it for my daughter at bedtime. One evening, lyrics to this music occurred to me as if from a muse, which I sang to her for ages. She now sings these lyrics to her daughter, and I do too. This makes me “plum happy”—the word plum once upon a time was used in place of very. The word plum contains a lump of something very special—not just a lump of coal. Below are the silly yet serious—and seriously special—lyrics a muse whispered in my ear (a muse never ceases to amuse):
When the sugar plum fairies come and prance and dance into your dreams at night,
They’ll being gumdrops, cotton candy, they’ll bring lollipops, little treats.
When the sugar plum fairies come and whirl and twirl all through your dreams at night,
They’ll bring chocolates, they’ll bring caramels, they’ll bring peppermints, little sweets.
When the sugar plum fairies come and
Dance and prance all through your dreams tonight,
When the sugar plum fairies come and
Dance and prance and bring good dreams tonight.
(See Appendix II, the poem and illustration of “The Sugar Plum Tree.” These lyrics are basic and do often change—alternate rhyming words include enhance and enchant.)
Like Clara was upset when her brother broke the Nutcracker, my daughter was upset when a little boy broke her sugar plum fairy snow globe at a party we were having. In awe of it, he had picked it up, carrying it over to me and exclaiming “Mary Ann, look!” When I looked, I reacted with fear since it was glass (this same sweet, cute little boy often innocently yet recklessly broke my daughter’s toys) and when I reached to retrieve it before he would break it and possible get cut by glass, he dropped it, and the glass globe broke, and he cried and ran to his mom who was also my friend. Though the glass globe is gone, The Sugar Plum Fairy dancing to the music yet remains. She was released from her glassed-in existence. Unlike Clara, however, my daughter did not get angry—she just felt a little glum for the fairy of the sugar plums. We three generations still dance to the song too—myself, my daughter Cassie, and her daughter Gracie.
I dedicate this essay to them; they both came into this world singing and dancing.
Bangs, J. K. (1949). “The little elf.” (Werner, J., Ed.). The big golden book of poetry. New York NY: Golden Press.
Berry, P. (1982). Echo’s subtle body: Contributions to an archetypal psychology. Dallas,TX: Spring Publications.
Bly, R. (1972). Leaping Poetry: An idea with poems and translations. Boston: Beacon Press.
Bolshoi Ballet. (2010). “Dance of the sugar plum fairy.” The Nutcracker. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz_f9B4pPtg
Eliade, M. (1991). Images and symbols: Studies in religious symbolism. (P. Mairet, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published in 1952.)
Fields, E. (1949). “The sugar plum tree.” (Werner, J., Ed.). The big golden book of poetry. New York, NY: Golden Press.
Hoffman, E. T. A. (n. d./1918). The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. (L. R. C., Trans.). Retrieved from springhole.net/writing/the_nutcracker_and_the_mouse_king/index.html
Jung, C. G. (1990/1959). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) New York, NY.: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1965). Symbols of transformation. (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) New York, NY: Princeton University Press. (Original work published in 1952.)
Kawash, S. (2010). “Sugar plums: They’re not what you think they are.” The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/12/sugar-plums-theyre-not-what-you-think-they-are/68385/
NPR Staff. (2012). “No sugar plums here: The dark, romantic roots of The Nutcracker.” NPR News. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2012/12/25/167732828/no-sugar-plums-here-the-dark-romantic-roots-of-the-nutcracker
Resnikova, E. (2016). Tchaikovsky’s ballets: A review of Tchaikovsky’ ballets by Roland John.
The New Criterion, 34 (7) n. p. Retrieved from http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm.Tchaikovsky-a-ballets-6648
von Franz, M. L. (1995). Shadow and evil in fairy tales. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
The Little Elf*
by John Kendrick Bangs
I met a little Elfman once,
Down where the lilies blow.
I asked him why he was so small,
And why he didn’t grow.
He slightly frowned, and with his eye
He looked me through and through—
“I’m just as big for me,” said he,
“As you are big for you.”
The Sugar Plum Tree*
By Eugene Field
Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
‘Tis a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollypop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;
The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
(As those who have tasted it say)
That good little children have only to eat
Of that fruit to be happy next day.
When you’ve got to the tree, you would have a hard time
To capture the fruit which I sing;
The tree is so tall that no person could climb
To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!
But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
And a gingerbread dog prowls below –
And this is the way you contrive to get at
Those sugar-plums tempting you so:
You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
And he barks with such terrible zest
That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
As her swelling proportions attest.
And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
From this leafy limb unto that,
And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground –
Hurrah for that chocolate cat!
There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains,
As much as your apron can hold!
So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
And I’ll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.
*This poem is in the public domain
Mary Ann Bencivengo studies Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in the Jungian and Archetypal Studies program. She has studied arts and humanities—music, dance, literature/poetry, and visual arts. She received her MFA in Poetry and her BFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University, where she first encountered Jungian studies.December 2, 2020 at 8:01 pm #72328Stephen GerringerKeymaster
What a deep dive, Marianne! Even though the YouTube video is no longer available, your detailed description makes up for that. What’s more, I was completely clueless about the origins of The Nutcracker Suite in a 1918 short story by E.T.A. Hoffman!
So many wonderful references in your piece. I especially appreciate the following:
Clara’s dolls that come to life are, like the doll in the story of “Vasilisa the Beautiful” (von Franz, 1995, pp. 192-96), symbolic of a young girl’s inner self, inner knowing, inner strength. Clara’s dolls assembled upon the shelf resemble her own life upon a shelf.”
Vasilisa in all her incarnations is one of my favorite figures from Russian fairy tales. The doll motif especially speaks to me; I taught junior high for years, and regularly introduced 7th grade students to Willim Gibson’s play, “The Miracle Worker,” where Helen Keller’s doll plays a similar role.
Thank you for sharing!December 3, 2020 at 3:17 pm #72327
Thank you, Stephen! I am so glad to hear you enjoyed this piece and its inclusion of Vasilisa–I love the Vasilisa tales, too! I would love to approach more about those later. Would continued discussion go on here or would it better as its own category somewhere else in the forum? I also love hearing about the classes you taught that included Helen Keller’s dolls in The Miracle Worker. Now I am inspired to return to that story!
There is a brief yet wonderful discussion of Vasilisa on pp. 192-200 in Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Revised Edition, 1995, Shambala Books) by Marie-Louise von Franz. Maybe this book is already in the mythological resources page of this website or else could be added.
The Nutcracker and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” brought such joy to me as a child–and I love Tchaikovsky’s music–and then to my daughter when she was little, and then to my granddaughter–so I had such a lovely time writing this paper.December 3, 2020 at 3:47 pm #72326
What a beautiful essay that is so illuminating and walks one to the origin and background of the Nutcracker suite. You are thoroughly blessed with a rich childhood, with dance, music, plays, operas, concerts and books. And your experiences, writings, and readings come through in this poetic essay.
The breaking of a child’s toy, and the sorrow that came along with it, brought back sad memories. I can relate to that, in more than one way. Could taking away a child’s blanket and throwing that into a rubbish bin, be as deeply wounding as breaking a toy? Can a young child tell the difference between intentional act and unintentional act of breaking or discarding toys? Would love to hear your comment.December 3, 2020 at 6:16 pm #72325
It makes me so happy that you enjoyed this essay I wrote, because it gave me such joy to write it–the joy I had in writing it was almost as numinous as the first time I ever saw The Nutcracker Ballet.
I was indeed so blessed to have the childhood I had, imbued with the arts. My mother was a huge fan of music, musicals, drama of the theater, and ballet. She was also an avid reader. My father claimed to be tone-deaf, and while true he mostly sang off-key, he still sang, coming close to hitting the pitches of the notes. He loved all the old American folk songs and folk songs from all over the world, and often would just break out in song as an event would make him associate it to that song. For instance, on someone’s birthday, he would often as a joke start singing “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” after we all sang the Happy Birthday song because of the verse “And we’ll all have cake and ice cream when she comes…” My parents both loved film, also, and shared their love of the classics with me when I was a child. My dad would spend hours with me watching all the classics as well as the classic cartoons. My dad was a huge fan of folklore and pop culture. I include this writing about my parents here as a tribute and thank you to them; also, I have felt the magnetic draw to share the arts with my own child and grandchild–and my daughter shares the arts this way with her child. I think this can be so important to keeping the arts alive by passing them on and from an early age all the better perhaps! I could say that the arts were what were emphasized in the household I grew up in.
I have heard so many stories of parents throwing out their child’s baby or childhood blanket once they think the child is supposed to outgrow it at a certain time and yes I think it can be as tragic to a child as a broken toy. I was also lucky that my parents never threw away my baby blanket which lasted me all through my toddler years. But after I was no longer a toddler, it was never thrown out–just put away for me in the cedar chest. I think the pain one experiences when a blanket is thrown away in and of itself validates the pain. Maybe one child would not be as attached to the blanket at a certain age as another–but it could be the violence in the child’s mind or heart of seeing it simply discarded (and how many times do we hear about parents getting vehement about it and arguing about it with the child or yelling as it is disgarded?) that can add to that pain even after a child is not as attached to it as when younger. Here I think of the fairy tales in which a beloved pet is killed, such as in The Chinese Cinderella when the evil stepmother kills the CInderella character’s pet. I would say, yes, a discarded blanket thrown to the “trash” can be as upsetting as a broken toy. And when broken toys can be fixed, the compare-contrast is that the blanket is so seldom retrieved from the trash or the “dump.” The images of “trash” and “dump” are so drastically awful to the psyche of the child, I would think, when “attached” to the child’s beloved blanket. It is not always so much a matter of the child not being able to give up the blanket at a certain age but is a beloved collectible after a while. I think a parent could find somewhere to keep the blanket, such as in a storage closet, or have it preserved like an afghan kept folded at the bottom of the bed for a while and let the child discard it as and when they wish.December 3, 2020 at 6:28 pm #72324
P.S. For the second part of your question, I think that parents should not hide truth from the child–maybe aside from stories about Santa Claus…I think that children can usually ferret out the truth of situations, that their intuition and instincts are very strong, and that adults, who are by the time they are adults are less in touch with their intuition and instincts in many ways (perhaps other than when a child might be in danger) often forget that. I believe it is a mistake to lie to children to cover up the truth–and let the child cover him or herself up in their blanket. I suppose by the time they are a certain age they would be told to not carry it around everywhere they go, but I for one don’t see any harm in keeping it or the child knowing it is kept in the cedar chest and still “honored” as memory.
I am sorry for your pain and sadness you went through as a child, and how this memory can still hurt today. If you would wish, you could visit your blanket in the imaginal realm and re-write the history of the event to your satisfaction and healing today. I think when we are children we personify our blanket just like a toy or stuffed animal and part of what we feel is not our own sorrow when an item is thrown away is our anguish for the blanket as if we have deserted it and caused it pain–as if we have caused it sorrow, not just the sorrow of us missing it, but the sorrow that it will miss us.
–MarianneFebruary 15, 2021 at 3:17 am #72323
Marianne, what an in-depth and beautiful essay/work on the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy!”
I can certainly relate to this on many different levels!
Though I mentioned in another post being a tap dancer, that does not encompass my full experience of dance (it is just a strong forte of joy.)
For a few years, I was a member of a regional ballet company.
My experience of dance ranges from training, performing, choreographing and teaching in the SE and NYC.
Love all forms of dance and also “free form.” Dancing to live music is also wonderful!
So I loved reading your essay and the way you handed down the “magic” of the “nutcracker and sugar plum fairy” and magic of dance to your daughter!!
One quote of yours stands out…
No part of the hero-myth is single in meaning…and all the figures are interchangeable” (Jung, C. G., 1965 p. 390). Clara thus achieves important steps on her path of individuation once she dances her dream
Before this, you connected The Sugarplum Fairy to Clara…
Clara is the fairy.
This reminds me of dancing in different Nutcrackers….and how the stories differ…
The first Nutcracker I was in…
Clara is not danced by a little girl, but a young woman (usually a principal member of company) who dresses as a “girl.” Sometimes it is a shorter company member.
As a little girl, I was convinced the young woman who danced Clara had to be a “fairy!”
When Clara breaks the spell of the Nutcracker…she reveals the Cavalier…
Then the “adult” Clara and “adult” Cavalier dance a Pa de Deux together.
Next is Snow…and then Land of the Sweets just as you describe!
Next Clara sits upon a dais watching all the dancers in the Land of the Sweets.
The Sugar Plum fairy is still there and dances her staccato dance, as well as her Pa de deux with the Cavalier.
So this is interesting, since both Clara and the Sugar Plum dance with the Nutcracker Prince.
Two halves of a whole? As you suggest?
Or the Sugarplum fairy still representing that yearning?
The 2nd version of the Nutcracker, which I encountered was while dancing with the regional ballet company.
You mention the Bolshoi version.
The 2nd version I experienced was based closer on the NYCB version.
Balanchine added more children to that version of the Nutcracker.
Though the regional company still had a Clara in Balanchine’s version the young girl is “Marie.”
Was trying to remember if that is closer to the original story you describe? But you are right it is not “as dark.” I would say the Maurice Sendak version of the Ballet is darker perhaps closer to the original story?
Fritz is mean and Drosselmeyer is no longer a tricksy magician but creepy and almost “sadistic.”
Though I do enjoy Arabian being represented as a Phoenix? Unless my ballets are mixed up. Think that was a NW ballet company?
Back on track…
The 2nd Nutcracker has a little girl play “Clara” or “Marie,” usually 10 to 12 years old.
When the spell is broken…there is a little boy…same age who represents the prince.
BUT the older Nutcracker Cavalier and the Sugarplum Fairy are still there.
In fact there is also if memory serves a “Snow King and Snow Queen?”
And the Cavalier might double up to play the snow King?
This dance takes the place of the Pa De Deux of “Adult” Clara and the Cavalier.
The little Clara and her Prince just sit and watch the show…including the duet between the adult Cavalier and Sugarplum Fairy…
Though occasionally the little prince beckons other members of the land of sweets to perform.
I find that fascinating!
Maybe again representing that “longing” in Clara or Marie’s journey.
Also wondering if it is similar to Oklahoma where the dancer Bambi Lynn is the “dream” version of her character? Along with James Mitchell representing the other “dream” version of her co-Star?
Could the Cavalier and Sugarplum be dream versions or even represent a possible hopeful future for Clara…?
Unless they are literally? The Royal parents of the pre-teen Prince?
Offering as you said a place without conflict to Clara…a welcoming family…
Thank you again for this thought provoking piece on “the endemic dream!”
Dance on!February 15, 2021 at 3:40 am #72322
Addendum…though I mention the regional ballet company…my true love of dance began with my tap mentor Beale Fletcher and his wife Peggy…a beautiful ballet and ballroom dancer…
Peggy was all about heart…and hers was the first nutcracker I experienced rolling out from under Mother Ginger’s dress and being in the festive party scene…Peggy even painted the scenery for the Nutcracker at Fletcher School of Dance and headed the Land of the Sky Ballet. She was from the old country of Scotland, though she also became a member of the Royal Canadian Ballet. Beale was a vaudevillian in the day…so stories there! Loved these two dearly! Unforgettable!April 14, 2021 at 3:51 am #72321
Wow, thank you so so much for your beautifully detailed response to my post of my paper. It is a delight to read all that you have done with the world of dance and your thoughts. I have to mention here that most the ballet I did was when I was from about 4-14. I then quit the lessons I had all those years and then at 15 did join in an after-school dance class that was a lot of ballet. Later I took some modern dance classes. I do not have the experience you have–I write mostly from my memories of dance (even though I still dance even in my older age as a sort of exercise and do teach my granddaughter what I can remember)! I will have to give your observations and questions, I feel, a good deal of further thought if I were to do your questions with all your experience and knowledge “justice.” Thank you again for responding so richly and enthusiastically–I am grateful that you enjoyed my paper–and I will get back with you again and hopefully when I do it will not take me as long this time–
I am looking into the circumstances on some of your questions to refresh my memory and I am not certain I have seen all the same performances you are referring to, to will have to look into that! I do think it is all about longing, every bit of it in the Land of the Sweets. Also the younger Clara/Marie and the older Clara/Marie, I have often felt that it is the younger Clara/Marie and her Prince looking upon themselves as older–seeing themselves as older because in a way it is about Clara’s/Marie’s movement into adolescence on the verge of a romantic/sexual awakening.
Gratefully, with joy,
MarianneApril 14, 2021 at 4:01 am #72320
Sunbug, it does seem how the Nutcracker brings so many enchanting memories to so many people who have danced and who love to watch dance and love the dance’s music!–almost like a magical rite of passage of some sort for so many of us. I know it was like that too when I first saw then danced the Nutcracker as a little girl and then when I took my daughter to see it for the first time and then my daughter with my granddaughter for her first time seeing it. It seems we all “fall in love” with the magic of this ballet. It is one of the most numinous things in my life no matter how many times I see/hear it! Your experiences you describe above sound “perfectly” magical. How beautiful your descriptions of your memories and connections are–numinous in and of themselves. To hear of the old country of Scotland…
Sounds like a book in the making–so much rich artistic and historical and memoir material!
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