This past Tuesday night I went to the Nutcracker at Narodni Divadlo (the National Theater) with a fair amount of my program as our program supplied tickets! Weirdly, I think this experience was a sort of parallel to my time abroad.
Firstly, I absolutely love the Nutcracker. Every year I watch a recording of the Seattle Ballet Company’s production of it so I am very used to a specific Nutcracker performance. Going into the performance I thought I knew what I would be getting into. Hilariously this was clearly not true. The opening sequence began with two characters one who was painted entirely silver with the word ja – meaning I in Czech on his back – and another painted entirely gold with ty – meaning you in Czech on her back. I was very confused about how these two characters fit into the traditional Nutcracker tale.
Next we were shown that the set of the story was Prague, which was very cool and instead of Christmas eve the date was Saint Niklaus day (which I explained the traditions of in my last post). This involved the introduction of the three characters from Saint Niklaus day: Saint Niklaus himself, the devil and the angel. The changes only continued from there.
*****Spolier alert**** (just in case you were planning on traveling here to see the show)
I think the biggest struggle for me was the lack of the Nutcracker character and no journey to “candyland” instead the dances were for different types of ornaments and things decorating the tree. The funniest moment during the performance, for me, was when I realized that during the dance of the trees (no such thing in my Nutcracker) the children were collecting mushrooms! Mushrooming is a huge pastime for the Czechs which I find very strange. However my host family once said they went to a mushroom exhibit (with one of their past homestay students) and stayed for 3 HOURS! Poor girl. I truly cannot understand the degree of interest in mushrooms here.
I felt that this show was a good example of my time abroad because when I first was getting ready to come here I thought I knew exactly what to expect. As I knew exactly what should happen in the story of the nutcracker. Then when I got here I grew a little confused – why is the mice the good character? At first it was just little things that felt really different and then when things were really different I grew upset. There’s no nutcracker and if there is not a dance of the snowflakes I might just hurt someone. I missed what I was used to before and what I’d known. Why are they not doing the candy dances? Where is Arabian coffee?!?!?! I felt I was missing out on things being done in the US. I have to watch this again when I go home to really have seen “the Nutcracker” this year. Then slowly I got over myself and I started to appreciate the Czechs for their differences and their uniqueness (like their interest in mushrooms). This is an interesting interpretation, I wonder why I’ve never seen a different adaptation of the Nutcracker before. When I get bummed about the differences I glorify things at home and get really excited to leave. Ok as interesting as this is this isn’t what I want to see right now, this is not how this is traditionally done. However I soon realize that the differences make this exciting and novel and it’s entertaining because of its difference not in spite of it. They should have just changed the name this could’ve been a really great performance if it just wasn’t called the Nutcracker but like A Chrismas Ballet in Prague or something. I realize that i don’t want to leave and that somehow being here has begun to feel like normal. No one’s going to understand my references when I say “that’s so Czech!” And of course this has to happen a week before I go home.