A visit one early winter in 1984 with my young son to a performance of The Nutcracker ballet at Bristol’s Hippodrome (first ballet for both us) was perhaps over-ambitious, or just a tad premature for a 3 year old and left us both struggling with the complicated story (without the benefit of words at the ballet, obviously), a story which is also a little odd…
“During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker [a toy, made by her mysterious godfather, Drosselmeyer, as a gift for her]. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see Drosselmeyer perched atop it. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The nutcracker also grows to life size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their king. They begin to eat the soldiers….(thanks Wikipedia)
However it did provide us with some wonderful visual treats helped by Tchaikovsky’s magical music, and not long after the show in the lead up to Christmas I saw a wooden nutcracker soldier doll just like the character in the ballet. It was one of a range of traditional East German (as it was then) hand-made toys – once apparently produced by children;
“The Erzgebirge is a low mountain range in the east of Germany. Rich deposits of gold, silver and tin [it was known as the Ore Mountain] brought prosperity to the region during the 15th -17th century. In the 18th century many mines dried up and forced the jobless miners to find new ways to make a living. They turned to their long time hobby wood working and started to handcraft wooden items. The main technique has already been woodturning and woodcarving” (from the site The Erzebirgishe Palace)Despite his choleric demeanour (that did match the oddness of the story) he seemed a perfect addition to our Christmas decorations, and we could break open our walnuts with him too! But, he was just too expensive, and he had to stay in the shop. However, in the January sales he was there again – much reduced in price so I snapped him up, and hid him away until the following Christmas.
I think I may have been the only one who enjoyed revealing him along with the other decorations (son, now 4, had completely forgotten the ballet by then), and since one of his arms fell off as we got him out, and the first walnut we cracked broke his jaw, we were a little disappointed. But he still had a glossy and alarming charisma and has stayed with us, guarding the fireplace every Christmas, maybe keeping the mice at bay.