December 10th, 2017 at the Plainfield South High School Auditorium, Plainfield Dance Academy will be performing their annual production of The Nutcracker!
Now that we’re a little less than a month away from the big day, we thought it’d be a fun idea to do a few special posts about this most beloved holiday ballet leading up to our performance! And since Saturday mornings are when we have our Pre-Ballet – Ballet 2 classes with the little ones, we thought that we’d talk about our favourite childhood memory of the music from the Nutcracker: Disney’s Fantasia!
In 1940, Walt Disney with his best team of animators, accompanied by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, created what would become one of Disney’s most beloved classics. Using classical music to narrate the stories, the animators created their own works of art not based on the original intent of the music but, the feeling and imagery it brought to mind for them. Through this concept, they changed the way people listened to the music from Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.
What is The Nutcracker?
The story that appears in The Nutcracker ballet is based on a story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. The story follows Marie, 7, her eight year old brother Fritz, as they spend the Christmas holiday with their grandfather, Drosselmeier. Marie sees a nutcracker on the mantel, which Drosselmeier says she can be the special caretaker of. After an argument with her brother for breaking the nutcracker, Marie sleeps and dreams of many different adventures with the nutcracker, armies of mice and other fanciful dreams.
Using this story, Tchaikovsky wrote his last and most famous ballet of a similar name: The Nutcracker, in 1891. Changing Marie’s name to Clara, as well as a few other minor details, the music as well as the ballet itself has become one of the most recognizable works of art in the world. Oddly enough, it’s widely known that Tchaikovsky wasn’t pleased with the end result of the music, thinking of it as one of the worst pieces he’d ever written. How wrong a person can be!
When Disney gained the rights to use the music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in their film, they created stories completely different than that most commonly associated with this music.
The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies
In this visual recreation of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, we follow the clever fairies of the forest who bring color and life to the dull, colorless world. They dance and fly about spreading joy, whimsy, color and fun to the flowers, trees and waters.
Some fairies use their magic to make flowers bloom and spread a glistening dew upon the various plants in the forest, representing the Spring and Summer.
This imagery makes the changing of the weather seem more magical than you could’ve possibly thought! Click the image to watch the video!
The Chinese Dance
In this sequence, we are introduced to a small family of mushrooms, dancing in a circle, with the star of the number being the runt of the group. During this performance, the tiniest mushroom tries desperately to keep up with the bigger mushrooms without being left out. He struggles to keep up with the number but, ultimately takes center-stage in the finale spotlight!
It’s as whimsical and light-hearted and the music itself and one of the Fantasia crowd-favorites.
Dance of the Reed Flutes
The animators used the idea of dancing flowers and turned them into ballerinas. Following the music as it speeds up, increases in volume and intensity, and decreases its intensity, the flowers spin on point just as dancers in a pair of pointe shoes.
The majority of the flowers, the company of dancers, are a variety of orange, pink and blue. In the center is the solo white flower’ the prima ballerina. At the end of the number, the entire company of flowers and the white flower spin off of a waterfall to bring us to the next number.
The Arabian Dance
This scene slows things down a bit with an almost trans-causing dance by a fish that the Disney animators interestingly enough named “the Lola fish”. Take that however you will. It’s a very short piece that Disney didn’t really make too much of a story out of.
But, the animation is top notch for it’s time with the way they animated under water movement and it’s effect on the water itself. Many people said the same thing and saw this as a turning point for the Disney animation team. Oh boy, if they only knew what the future had in store for them.
The Russian Dance
Not only is this one of the most popular numbers in the Nutcracker suite, this animation sequence is one of the most beloved number in Fantasia. The Disney animators knocked it out of the park with bright colors and lively imagery that they put to this music. The thistle flowers represent the male dancers and the orchids represent the female dancers, even looking somewhat similar to what traditional Russian dancers wear!
The joy and uptempo beat of the song makes it very easy to watch and enjoy. For a brief moment, you almost forget that these are dancing flowers because of the animators ability to humanize them through their appearance and mannerisms!
The Waltz of the Flowers
Do you remember the Spring and Summer fairies from the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies? Well, in this final Nutcracker piece, we are introduced to the fairies of the Autumn and Winter. The music helps tell the tale of the fairies who change the colors of the leaves and bring the frost and snowflakes to the world. These are the fairies who freeze water and skate upon it leaving behind trails of their magic.
The way the music captures the power and might of the winter at the end, moves seamlessly with the work of the animators. It’s images like these that helped so many little girls decide to become little ballerinas themselves and then find out that they get to dance to this exact same music!
The Disney animators responsible for the classic that is Fantasia are considered pioneers in the way animation is perceived and in the way we perceive music. The music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite is timeless and brings many different memories to each person that listens to it.
Tell us, what does this music do for you?
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