When George Balanchine chose The Nutcracker to be the first full-length ballet for his young company, New York City Ballet, he wanted to evoke the charm and beauty of the production he remembered from his childhood at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater. Among the many roles that Balanchine performed in the ballet as a young boy was that of the Nutcracker Prince, and for his new staging, he quoted virtually unchanged the Prince's big moment: the point in the second act when he tells the Sugarplum Fairy and her court about the battle with the mice.
This sequence uses the traditional gestures of mime. As Jack Anderson has written, "Not simply a form of realistic dramatic gesture, mime in the old Imperial Russian ballet was a formalized sign language almost as complex as the sign language of the deaf, in which each gesture was assigned a special meaning. The mime scene in The Nutcracker became one of the most famous of all such scenes."
When Balanchine taught the mime sequence to the Nutcracker Princes in the early years, he used a sort of script, where nearly every word is correlated to one of the boy's gestures. Some of the gestures are traditional; for instance, at the start of the mime, the boy revolves his arms around each other, chest-high, which translates to, "I will tell you." But most of the gestures have meanings that are perfectly clear and need no translation.
Balanchine's script has been handed down over the years, first to David Richardson, who not only danced the role of the Prince as a child, but went on to be children's ballet master at NYCB, teaching the mime himself. He then passed on the script to the current children's ballet mistress, Garielle Whittle, who uses it faithfully each year.
Some of the phrases sound archaic or ungrammatical, but their structure is intended to guide the young dancer in his movements, which must be performed on the music, as well. The script, reprinted here, is a piece of City Ballet history, and a direct link between our Nutcracker and the original, first performed in 1892.
If you, and you will listen, I will tell you everything.
Way over there I slept.
She me comforted and I slept.
All of a sudden I heard and saw with my two eyes a mouse.
What should I do?
I called my soldiers to fight.
Over there came the king of the mice.
He asked me to fight and I accepted.
He me pushed back.
She shoe threw.
King mouse turned and I killed.
She and me saved the whole land, and I have told you everything.