The Nutcracker, a beloved Pittsburgh Ballet holiday tradition returns again this year, bringing with it all the sweet magic of the season. Because several of its second-act Land of Enchantment characters have century-old roots in food, TABLE Magazine brought dance and dessert together this year: the accomplished chefs at Nemacolin take inspiration from the graceful dancers and meticulous costumers of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre with sweets to make you jeté with joy.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was first performed in St. Petersburg in December 1892. Some of the music caught on, but not the full ballet, which was seldom performed outside of Russia until the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo staged it in 1934 to some acclaim. Legendary George Balanchine, a dancer in his youth in Russia, a veteran of the Ballet Russe, and later a choreographer and teacher in Europe and the US, clearly felt the magic of this piece. In 1954 he created his now world-famous production of The Nutcracker for the New York City Ballet. Still performed in New York, it was staged here in Pittsburgh from 1983 through 2001.
In the second act of Balanchine’s version, he transports us to the Land of the Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. Dancers guised as chocolate, coffee, candy canes, marzipan, and other foods, give expression to Tchaikovsky’s memorable music and ignite all the senses. The original production named these dances for the places from which the ingredients originated. In Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s version, created by former Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr in 2002, we instead visit the Land of Enchantment, and these characters embody not foods or places, but rather moods: Jubilation, Joy, Elegance, Exuberance, and Harmony. Afterward, audience members step out into the real world feeling light as air and ready for more holiday magic.
Many of us feel jubilation when chocolate hits our palates, thanks to a cascade of neurochemicals that flood the brain with pleasure. The pas de deux titled “Jubilation” elicits the same sort of thrill with its lively movement and invigorating color. Nemacolin’s chefs harness the wonderful character of chocolate with their Chocolate Bolivia Wild Entremet, whose layers of flavor echo the intricacy of the costumes and the choreography.
In the depths of winter, a sip of hot tea enlivens the soul with a joyful dose of warmth. The Asian origins of many fine teas is acknowledged in Tchaikovsky’s music and in the costumes designed for PBT by Emmy Award-winner Zach Brown. Fluttering ribbons accompanying the dancer’s movements echo the vivacious feeling of the piece. Nemacolin’s Tea Matcha Mandarin recasts the streamers in folds of ornamented fondant, which conceals the layers of yellow cake basted with vanilla bean simple syrup and separated by matcha buttercream frosting.
Among the most sensual passages of The Nutcracker, and perhaps of any ballet, this moment of Pittsburgh Ballet’s production memorably opens our eyes to the skill and strength required of male ballet dancers. Without this strength, elegance is hard to achieve. Strength and elegance are qualities the chefs at Nemacolin channeled into their Coffee Costa Crunch, whose circles of chocolate garnish recall the sinuous, spiraling movement deployed in the choreography.
High-jumping dancer Masahiro Haneji puts some exuberant air between himself and the ground during this Russian-inflected passage of The Nutcracker. He and his colleagues bring athleticism and freshness to the choreography, and a smile to faces young and old–which is the same result the chefs at Nemacolin achieve in their minty holiday dessert creations.
A lovely trio of artists moves in lithe harmony in this moment of Pittsburgh Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” one of the most recognizable and beloved melodies of ballet music. The elan of this delicate tune is captured nicely by the Nemacolin pastry chef team in a wonderful Marzipan Almond Tart, garnished with cranberry mascarpone cream, dehydrated apple slices, and tiny marzipan apples. Wunderbar!
The delicate chimes of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” epitomize the magic of the glinting lights and glistening frosts of the winter season. When she and her Cavalier dance their elegant duet, the noise of the world disappears entirely and the audience is wholly transported to the Land of Enchantment. Pittsburgh Ballet principals Hannah Carter and Lucius Kirst certainly transported us! The tart trio created by the team at Nemacolin captures some of their lofty, elevated elegance with its combination of three delicious sugared-fruit mousses.
Discover 6 Nutcracker inspired desserts crafted by the talented pastry team at Nemacolin.
Story by Keith Recker / Photography by Jeff Swensen
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