'I Hate the Nutcracker'

Commentator Tanya Barrientos is no Scrooge. Like most people, she enjoys giving and receiving gifts and Christmas caroling. But there is one Christmas tradition that she could happily do without.

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(Soundbite of "Nutcracker Overture")

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On December 18th, 1892, the "Nutcracker Ballet" debuted at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

(Soundbite of "Nutcracker Overture")

SIEGEL: It was based on a tale by E.T. Hoffman, and the music was by Tchaikovsky.

(Soundbite of "Nutcracker Overture")

SIEGEL: Commentator Tanya Barrientos is no scrooge, but this is one holiday tradition that she says she can do without.

TANYA BARRIENTOS:

It's that time of the year again when, in the name of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, we all end up doing something we hate. And like lemmings to the sea, we schlep the kids to the nearest performance of the "Nutcracker Ballet." I know it's a holiday classic, one of those cultural must-dos, like piano recitals and modern art. But, honestly, is there anyone over the age of eight who actually enjoys sitting through that ballet?

Don't get me wrong, I think everybody should see the "Nutcracker" at least once. But, really, even when it's staged by the best, it's not what you would consider white-hot entertainment. Sure, the costumes are pretty, and the music is, too. But the story--it's as old and tired as "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." Girl gets nutcracker. Girl breaks nutcracker. Girl gets dragged to Sugarland, where she's forced to sit through a lineup of talent that would make Simon Cowell cry. Face it, "Harry Potter" it's not.

I'm not saying we should get rid of the ballet altogether. As sappy as it is, it's still a great way to introduce kids to overall music and dance. And there's something to be said for taking two hours out of the year to simply sit still and appreciate art. But if the "Nutcracker" ever hopes to truly compete with Xbox games and iPods, it needs an extreme makeover. I don't mean staging the show on ice or transforming it into a Barbie video, both of which have already been done. I'm talking about something radical, something that will make the ballet more "Survivor" than Sugar Plum Fairy.

Maybe instead of the Snowflake Dance, there should be skateboarders doing nosegrinds and kickflips. Maybe Clara should be chauffeured to the Land of Sweets in a souped-up NASCAR. Or the audience could get into the act. They could dream up some Donald Trump-like challenges for the cast to do. They could watch the coffee and chocolate dances and then take a vote to see which tutu should be tossed from the footlights.

OK, maybe that's going too far. But, trust me, when you find yourself wedged in a dark theater seat, dozing through yet another round of "Waltz of Flowers," my plan for skateboarders won't sound all that bad.

SIEGEL: Tanya Barrientos is a features writer and columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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