The Tradition of The Nutcracker Ballet
Based on the story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker ballet was first created in the late 1800s. This year marks the 220th anniversary of the debut performance of The Nutcracker on December 5, 1892 danced by The Russian Imperial Ballet and choreographed by Marius Petipa.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the original score for The Nutcracker, which actually received poor reviews after its first showing. He died less than two years later, and was never aware of just how successful it would become. It is now known as one of his most popular compositions.
The Nutcracker quickly began to evolve into an annual tradition in Russia. Surprisingly enough, it did not transition to America right away. In fact, the first performance of The Nutcracker in the United States was not set on stage until 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet, 52 years after its debut in Russia.
Even in the 1940s and early 1950s, while The Nutcracker was performed quite regularly, it was not yet widely revered as an annual holiday tradition. That changed in 1954, when George Balanchine choreographed an updated version for the New York City Ballet with some new characters. Since then, for the past 58 years, The Nutcracker has been performed annually in New York City.
Balanchine’s version has become one of the most well-known among audiences, and it has been passed on through multiple generations, across dance companies and studios throughout the country. Balanchine was the first choreographer to use a child dancer for the role of Clara, simplifying the choreography for the role. He allowed the performance to be more accessible to children while still keeping the mystery and drama intact for adults.
The story of The Nutcracker centers on Clara, a young girl attending her parents’ Christmas party in their home. She is given a Nutcracker as a gift, and dreams of a world where she and her nutcracker prince encounter many wondrous things from far-away lands, and she watches as he defeats an army of mice led by the Mouse King.
Today, one can find The Nutcracker in a variety of settings, with a variety of dance styles and story adaptations, on stages, televisions, and movie screens around the world. Balanchine’s version for the New York City Ballet is usually easy to find on television during the holiday season if you would like to see the performance that solidified The Nutcracker as a holiday tradition in the United States.