Tchaikovsky: “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy”
Or, as it’s known in full: “The Nutcracker, Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 14c, Pas de deux, Variation II: Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.” But that’s quite a mouthful, so I’m just shortening it to the more commonly known title. Call it what you will, it’s one of those pieces that Christmas seems a little less complete without having heard it at least once during the season.
And so I did this past weekend, going with my family to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker, the one that features a set and costumes designed by the late, great Maurice Sendak. While it may not be as traditional as the version by, say, the Boston Ballet (the only other version I’ve seen, so my casually tossing another city’s version out there isn’t as well-versed as it might seem — it’s not like I had to sift through my vast personal knowledge base of Nutcracker experiences), the Sendakian touches make it easily one of the coolest versions you could hope to see.
But regardless of which version of The Nutcracker you see or hear, there are few melodies in the piece (or anywhere) as simultaneously beautiful and haunting as “The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.” It seems perfect in its construction, not a note out of place, and it perfectly describes what one would imagine a dancing sugar-plum fairy to sound like. I always wished it was longer, but in a way, its brevity is part of its beauty — it always leaves you wanting just a little more.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky debuted The Nutcracker in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, so it’s only fitting that the version I’m featuring here today (of many, many possible versions) is by the Kirov Orchestra, based at the Mariinsky Theatre and led by Valery Gergiev. It’s considered by some to be one of the best recordings of The Nutcracker, but really, it’s hard to go wrong with music as gorgeous as this.