The Nutcracker’s Backstory

With Nutcracker season tipping the scale on both our sanity and happiness, it’s time to take a deeper look into the history of this ballet with a short but sweet lesson about the origins of this wonderful holiday tradition.

The Nutcracker’s original premiere was in 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  It’s been around for 124 years!  The choreography was by Marius Petipa.  Many accounts credit him, although he became ill part way through his choreographing of the production, and therefore Lev Ivanov, another great Russian choreographer, had to step in.  It was different from most productions at the time in the sense that a student and not a professional dancer would dance the leading role of Clara. Clara and Fritz were both in fact played by children, also students of the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.  The original Clara was played by Stanislava Belinskaya.

Despite  the effort that went into it, the first production was not a success.  The critics had mixed reviews about the performances of the dancers, and the production itself was shamed.  Below are some comments made at the time:

  • The sugarplum fairy was called corpulent and podgy.
  • The columbine doll was dubbed as completely insipid.
  • The battle scene choreography was confusing and hard to follow.
  • The plot was not fully faithful to the Hoffmann tale.
  • The transition from the reality of the first act to the dream of the second act was too abrupt.

Most of the criticism, however, was focused on the prominent use of children in the ballet.  The principals didn’t get to dance until late into the second act, in the grand pas de deux, and Clara, a child, was the focus of the story.  Imagine how you would have felt dancing Clara and having all of those bad reviews!

Tchaikovsky’s score received more praise, as we would expect it to.  Although, some reviews criticized the choices of music for the party scene and the grand pas de deux.  However, these comments were not as severely negative as the ones made about the dancers and the choreography.

Now, much of the production has been modified and countless other versions of the ballet have been produced, with some of its most notable choreographers being George Balanchine and Alexander Gorsky.  It has since become a very successful and much loved ballet all over the world.

The tradition of holding the annual Nutcracker is wide-spread in America, where almost all of the major companies and hundreds of smaller studios and schools make it their tradition too.  It is said that major ballet companies generate over 40 percent of their annual income from ticket sales for performances of The Nutcracker. Audiences look forward to it every year and repeat viewings are not unusual.

I hope you found this post interesting and helpful, and I’ll see on you on Friday!

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