As the Nutcracker ballet is so familiar to the general public, Alborada Spanish Dance Theater decided to look at this classic story from the point of view of a traditional Spanish holiday celebration. The ballet will be presented on Sunday, November 18, at the Richard Marasco Performing Arts Center in Monroe Township.
In this new production the exchange of gifts customary to the Christmas holiday is depicted as it is celebrated in Spain and other Hispanic countries — on Three Kings Day, twelve days after Christmas, on January 6. Also known as the Epiphany, Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes) is a celebration that commemorates the Biblical story of the Three Kings or Wise Men, who followed the star of Bethlehem to bring gifts to the Christ child. According to the story, the Three Kings — traditionally named Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar — presented the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Every January 5, this celebration begins with thousands of excited children and their parents gathering along the streets in their towns to greet the arrival of the Three Kings. In the evening, the Three Kings process through the towns on horseback and camels. The Kings — one of whom is traditionally a Moor (the Moors were the Moroccan Arabs who dominated southern Spain in the ninth century) — throw candy and small gifts to the children.
In the U.S., it is typical for children to leave cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve; however in Hispanic countries, children leave three items at the door before they go to bed on January 5: a dish of water and hay for the camels; turron (an egg yolk nougat and a classic Spanish Christmas treat) and perhaps a glass of wine or sherry for the Kings; and a pair of shoes in which they hope the Wise Men will leave gifts. Children awake on January 6 to find their shoes filled with toys and gifts.
Alborada’s version of “The Nutcracker,” called Sueno de Una Nina or “A Little Girl’s Dream,” embodies the traditions of a Spanish Christmas with its Three Kings Day gift-giving celebration, and a storyline built around the classic Nutcracker story and score. The role of Drosselmeyer will be replaced by the young girl’s Tia Maria (Aunt Maria), and a brave matador rather than a toy soldier will represent the Nutcracker; the seven-headed Mouse King becomes a Toro (bull) King.
Some elements of the traditional Nutcracker (ballet and music by Tchaikovsky) are incorporated into “Sueno de Una Nina” but the production will predominantly feature Spanish dances, music and songs, with other ethnic dances replacing their ballet counterparts. Visual artist Libby Ramage, who is associated with the Arts Council of Princeton, has constructed oversized masks to be worn by the dancers portraying the Three Kings. Alborada’s core group of dancers, musicians, and singers is expanded for this performance to include a guest Middle Eastern dancer and a male and female ballet duet.
The original set for the first half of the production is the Plaza de Toros — a bullring — designed by Charles Seal, Alborada’s set designer, which becomes the beautiful Land of Majas in the second half.
In Act I of Sueno de Una Nina, the production opens with Clarita surrounded by her family and friends at the annual Three Kings Day parade (cabalgada) in a Spanish plaza. As they wait for the Three Kings to arrive, everyone dances the lively Bulerias, a joyful fiesta dance from the Flamenco cante chico (“small song”) tradition. The Three Kings arrive in a carriage. Accompanied by music from the 1500s, the Kings dance: El Rey Gaspar dances a stately saraband; El Rey Melchor dances in the 18th century Escuela Bolera style; and El Rey Baltazar, the Moor, dances and plays a Middle Eastern drum.
The Kings distribute gifts to everyone in the plaza and leave as Tia Maria arrives. Clarita is her favorite niece, so Tia Maria conjures up a pair of dancing dolls to perform a ballet for her. She also gives Clarita a matador doll. Clarita’s brother, Fernando, becomes jealous, grabs the matador doll, drops and breaks it. After Tia Maria mends the doll with her panuela (handkerchief) and comforts Clarita, everyone departs the plaza singing and doing palmas (rhythmic clapping characteristic of Flamenco).
Clarita goes home to bed and awakens later to see a huge bull (toro) coming out of the shadows. Small matadors, danced by children, appear and fight the giant Toro. The fight scene begins with a pasodoble, the traditional music of the bullfight. Then a real matador appears and the music changes to Farruca (the macho Flamenco dance that incorporates elements of the bullfight), as he fights the Toro. The matador is wounded, so Clara throws her shoe at the Toro, and the great bull dies. The matador rises and gives Clara the Toro’s crown. He then summons the enchanted Maja, who appears dressed in a mantilla (lace head covering) and leads Clarita to the Land of the Majas.
In Act II, Clarita arrives in the Land of the Majas, to see the beautiful women of the Goya period. Here she enjoys dances from every region of Spain. Flamenco is theorized to have evolved from the influences of many populations present in Spain from the ninth through the 17th centuries — the Jews, Moors, Christians, and Gypsies — on the dances of Andalusia (southern Spain).
Latin American influences can be seen in some of the more recent Flamenco dance and music traditions from the time period where Spain explored the New World. Celtic populations migrated all over Europe between 600 B.C. and 200 B.C., with one group going through Germany and the south of France, then over the Pyrenees into northern Spain. The 18th century court dances, called “Escuela Bolera” (Bolero school), combine classical ballet steps with Spanish footwork and styling; the “Goyescas” dances from this school of Spanish Dance are performed with costumes and movements typical of the time of the great Spanish painter Goya.
Included in the Land of the Majas scene will be dances reflecting many of these cross-cultural interactions, including Galician dances with gaetas (Spanish bagpipes, performed by guest artists from Centro Orensano), demonstrating northern Spain’s Celtic influences; Verdiales, a regional dance from the mountains of Malaga performed with colorful ribbons on the dancers’ castanuelas; Zapateado, a classical dance having footwork evoking the sounds of horses’ hooves; Alegrias de Cadiz, a joyful Flamenco dance; and Rumba, a Cuban-influenced Flamenco dance.
Guest artist Ramzi Edlibi dances the Zambra (an Arabic-influenced Flamenco) style. As the Villancicos (traditional Spanish Christmas songs) are sung, La Maja gives Clarita back her matador doll, which is now brand new. As Clarita leaves to go home everyone showers flower petals in her path..
Nutcracker Espanol, Sunday, November 18, 3 p.m., Alborada Spanish Dance Theater, Richard Marasco Performing Arts Center, 1629 Perrineville Road, Monroe Township. A new production with a twist on the traditional Nutcracker as seen through the eyes of a Spanish child. $14. www.alboradadance.org or 732-521-4400, extension 134.