Death by metaphor

Battery increases the current until the audience begs for mercy.

The exception for this critic is The Nutcracker. It is, of course, a most brazen cash cow, but it's so much more. When it is well produced, the ballet brings out the healthy inner child (even if you don't have one). When it's badly produced, it can still be enchanting if the dancing snowflakes don't trip on the falling snow or the growing tree doesn't fall over (both of which I've seen happen).

Both Ballet Dallas and the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet are performing the work this month. It is worth seeing both--preferably with children. If you don't have any, rent some for this special occasion and you'll find yourself approaching a genuine holiday spirit. (Ballet Dallas performs at the Majestic Theatre, FWD in Fort Worth, and then Fair Park Music Hall.)

The Nutcracker is every ballet company's most profitable production, so it's hard to believe that the ballet languished for more than 50 years--it was considered a failure long before it became a season staple. When it opened in St. Petersburg in 1892, the narrative ballet based on E.T.A. Hofman's Christmas tale was deemed an unmitigated disaster.

The critics, as jaded in the 19th century as they are today, said the ballet was for children, the music was too pretty, and the choreography obscured by stage effects. (All true, and all those criticisms are what audiences now love about the ballet.) It took the unconventional George Balanchine to resurrect the ballet with his own elaborate version. Ever since, choreographers have been tinkering and reworking the choreography, from Rudolf Nureyev's 1930s flapper version to Mark Morris' gender-bending The Hard Nut.

Why is it so successful today after being shunned 100 years ago? Balanchine himself mused that in the 20th century, people are much more interested in children, and in much less of a hurry to grow up.

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