[Contains spoilers for Tea Shop for Two, a sweet romance for adults]
What is the first performance that comes to mind when someone mentions ballet? For many, it would be the famous Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. Based on the story Alexandre Dumas adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, The Nutcracker ballet is one of the most well-known ballets in the world. While those who don’t keep up with ballet can still recognize many famous ballets, it’s hard to imagine a performance with more renown than The Nutcracker.
Finding Inspiration in the National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker
The adaptation of The Nutcracker used in Tea Shop for Two is based off the National Ballet of Canada’s reimagining of the story, choreographed by James Kudelka. In this version, the traditional protagonist, Clara, is replaced with siblings Misha and Marie, further highlighting the family-feel of this ballet by making the siblings’ relationship a central part of the story.
The story also moves from the original setting of Germany to 19th-century Russia, meaning Marie and Misha are facing the Mouse Tsar, not the Mouse King. The performance mentioned in Tea Shop for Two is based off the Kudelka version of The Nutcracker ballet, so inspiration for the costuming and dances mentioned in the novel follow the adapted Russian version, not the traditional German version.
For more information on the plot of the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker, check out the plot summary of the story or take a look at the program for the 2021 performance from the National Ballet.
The Nutcracker in Tea Shop for Two
In Tea Shop for Two, the first full-length novel in the Love on Belmont series, the Nutcracker Prince has been Austin’s dream role since childhood. Witnessing his ballet idol, Todd, several years later dance the role onstage, strengthened that resolve. When Austin was diagnosed with epilepsy in his teenage years, he believed it meant he had no choice but to quit dance. But despite trying to distance himself from his former passion, Austin maintained his connection to The Nutcracker.
The Nutcracker ballet is about magic and imagination. It’s a story that people of all ages love, bridging a generational gap to tell this fantastical story. The performance makes the magical atmosphere feel alive, bringing an energy to the stage that captivates every person in the audience.
The Nutcracker is more than just Austin’s favourite ballet. It’s a metaphor for his life. As his life changes, the magic of The Nutcracker is how Austin copes with his new life, learns to accept himself, and eventually find a way to show others who he is.
Escaping into Dreams
Dreams and imagination provide all of us an escape from reality. Sometimes, what is not possible in the real world can become possible in dreams. These dreams can also encourage and inspire to make them reality.
Humiliated when he dropped his partner onstage during an unrecognized seizure at the final recital, Austin refused to return to his all-day ballet school, and his family moved back home to Kitchener.
When Austin became aware that his bouts of staring, which those close to him called daydreaming, were actually seizures, his life changed in ways he wasn’t expecting. Although it took several months to get a diagnosis—epilepsy—he had to try new medications, and his parents separated soon afterwards. Losing his passion on top of the changes his diagnosis demanded was a challenge that made accepting his new circumstances hard.
While escapism isn’t always the best way to deal with problems long term, it can be an effective strategy in learning to cope with new realities. In The Nutcracker ballet, the story takes place inside Misha and Marie’s dream. Their Nutcracker becomes a Prince who must defeat the Mouse Tsar. He is a hero.
By putting himself in the role of the Nutcracker Prince, Austin gets to feel like a hero. He gets to feel powerful, when in his reality he feels powerless. Being the Nutcracker Prince allows Austin to take charge of his own life, even if only for a moment.
Just like how The Nutcracker story is, in itself, a dream, Austin uses his love of The Nutcracker ballet to escape into his own dreams. When he meets Todd, his ballet idol, and reaches out, it’s his love for ballet and The Nutcracker that helps him take the first step towards acceptance.
How The Nutcracker Ballet Changes Dance into Feeling
In a video from the San Francisco Ballet that featured audience reactions, a little girl says that “it changed dancing into feeling.” And what better way is there to describe The Nutcracker than that?
The feelings The Nutcracker ballet showcases are relatable and understandable to all ages and audiences, helped along by the extravagant stage and costume designs that go with the production. This relatability for everyone, regardless of where they are in life, brings people together with every performance.
After believing he’d lost ballet in his life, the one piece that Austin held on to was The Nutcracker. After he could finally admit to Todd that he missed ballet, the dance Todd encouraged him to perform was the Nutcracker Prince solo from the opening of the second act. And when Austin was nervous before performing at the anti-bullying rally, Todd gifted him the Nutcracker Prince mask he wore when performing the role.
The Nutcracker ballet is Austin’s medium of expression. He uses his dance and love for The Nutcracker to express himself and feel confident when trying to create an understanding that brings people together.
The Nutcracker Prince, Performed at Claire’s Tea Shop
While Tea Shop for Two is the story of the romance between Pauline and Todd, Austin and his story are a big element in the novel. With Pauline’s friend being Austin’s mom, and Todd being Austin’s idol, they become closely connected to him and find themselves in a unique position to help him.
Todd, especially, connects with Austin through ballet and learns to let go of his past by helping Austin. Years before the events in Tea Shop for Two, Todd played the Nutcracker Prince. Meeting Austin and seeing his struggle, as well as his love for ballet and The Nutcracker, is part of what helps Todd find his courage to dance again.
Through its magical world, The Nutcracker ballet speaks to and connects with audiences worldwide. It’s a story about dreaming, imagination, and possibility that brings hope and joy to families every year. When Austin needed to express himself most, he held on to The Nutcracker and, over time, used his dream of being the Nutcracker Prince to accept himself.