I have given several backstage tours in the past few weeks as friends and family have come to see the NYCB’s annual spate of Nutcracker performances, and I have noticed that while the children are not that interested in how the show’s visual effects are produced, the adults are incredibly curious about the stagecraft. I wonder if children today are so inured to the special effects in film and video-games that they aren’t that impressed by the physics-defying coups of the production, like the Sugarplum Fairy’s toe slide. "We live in the grip of a technological paradox, in which the proliferation of wonders dilutes the possibility of wonder," NY Times film critic A. O. Scott wrote recently. Or maybe they are just at the age when magic is real and expected—it is the time of year in which Santa circumnavigates the globe in one night with flying deer after all.
Balanchine’s Nutcracker is theatrically impressive, but the magic is decidedly old-school. Many of the innovations are borrowed from the Mariinksy production Balanchine danced in as a young boy (the ballet premiered in 1892). When people come backstage the first thing they want to know is how the bed moves by itself in Act I. Many imagine that it involves a motorized system that adjusts