Unable to fable

It’s not easy to crack the nut of the narrative in the season’s most popular ballet.

Trying to make sense of The Nutcracker without suspending disbelief is a chore. I have this problem common to editors—always trying to figure out the storyline rather than just sitting back and devouring what amounts to a tasty confectionary of a production.

I can’t help it. What is it with the relationship between Clara and that Herr Drosselmeier? Is she seeking dominance? I get that it’s a dream that deals with the private world of children, but shouldn’t Clara find someone her own age and ditch that prince who’s fixated on cracking nuts? And those children hiding under the dress—it must be an unresolved Oedipal fixation.

Sure, you easily surrender to a fantastical fairy tale, and I’m left searching for a plot.

Perhaps the answer lies with the composer Tchaikovsky, a self-critical man who suffered from bouts of depression and hallucinations and tried to kill himself soon after getting married, by walking into a river and contracting pneumonia. But that dark background doesn’t jibe with his melodic, romantic and, at times, saccharine score.

And actually, the story itself originally was based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale. But like most old war horses trotted out over the decades, the story’s been modified repeatedly and updated by ballet companies around the world. That theme of reinvention and modification seems to be behind many of the season’s productions in Sacramento (see “Santa’s got a brand-new bag”).

So, the answer may lie in not going as an editor. Simply let the music, sets and costumes wash over you. If you need to focus on some aspect, let it be on the grace and beauty of the dancers—while I concoct a slightly bizarre and twisted storyline.