While there is no definitive claim that The Nutcracker was the first, its beginnings suggest that it would be difficult to find an earlier Christmas ballet. Hoffmann’s 1816 tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King had been adapted by Alexandre Dumas (of Three Musketeers fame) in 1844, and it was a ballet based on this version that was commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatre in 1892, following the huge success of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty two years previously.
The premiere performance of The Nutcracker was
not well received and that is probably being kind. Most
of the audience and the critics
panned the ballet. It would seem only the Tsar was delighted with it and I
guess that might have helped to save The Nutcracker? Some of the negatives
described the ballet as not a ballet at all with a corpulent prima ballerina
and unworthy of Tchaikovsky’s music.
|from "The Nutcracker" 1892 ( mentalfloss.com)|
So from this very shaky beginning, how did The Nutcracker become the ballet so universally performed and loved by even non-ballet fans at Christmas? Isabell McMeekan , a former first soloist with the Royal Ballet and a dancer in countless Nutcracker ballets over the years, sums up The Nutcracker’s appeal perfectly
“It’s the eternal fantasy of Christmas come to life on stage. You’ve got the girl, the guy, the dream, the magic tree that grows to 7 feet, the glittery snowflakes, and some really heavyweight choreography to the most amazing score. What’s not to love?”
Performances outside of Russia began with a 1934 production in England, but The Nutcracker gained its first popularity in the USA . The first performance of The Nutcracker in the United States was by the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1944. However, by changing a few characters, choreographer George Balanchine brought new life to The Nutcracker in his 1954 production for the New York City Ballet This performance was the beginning of the The Nutcracker's popularity as a much loved Christmas holiday tradition performance . Many of the versions of The Nutcracker performed today are based on that 1954 version. Whatever version, I know that one eight year old thought the recent Russian National Ballet Company’s performance of The Nutcracker” In Newcastle, NSW, Australia created a long lasting magical memory for her. And for Amy and other ballet fans, here are two minutes of the Sugar Plum Fairy
Tomorrow : The first Christmas movie?