The Nutcracker Ballet is a Christmas Eve fairy tale that was originally produced and performed in Moscow, Russia. The two scene tale was adapted from Alexander Dumas' adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffman’s tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The Nutcracker Ballet has been very popular since the late 1960s. The tale is now performed by numerous ballet companies, especially during the Christmas season. The Nutcracker Ballet is most common in North America.
The Nutcracker, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was first performed on December 18, 1892 at the Imperial Marrinsky Theatre, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Tchaikovsky and Pepita had earlier collaborated and brought the famous ballet fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty.
The choreography for the premiere performance was supervised by Marius Petipa. Petipa began working on the performance in August, prior to the December performance. However, his assistant Lev Ivanov took over when he fell ill. Because of the change in choreographer, there has been a debate on who the choreographer really was between Petipa and Ivanov.
The first performance of the Nutcracker did not turn out to be as successful as expected. Both the audience and the critics were not pleased by the whole performance as it was deemed very confusing to follow and not interesting to watch. On the day of the performance, it was performed alongside Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Lolanta. Tchaikovsky’s 20 minute soap opera that was doubled with the Nutcracker Ballet turned out to be very successful.
After the failure of the premiere performance and the numerous critics that followed, the team had to put in more effort and improve creativity in the subsequent productions and performances. The team drew inspiration from the Hoffman’s story.
In 1919, Alexander Gorsky choreographed the performance in which he eliminated children roles by replacing them with adults. He eliminated Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier and instead transferred their roles to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Alexander’s 1919 production was the first that saw adults assume the children’s role.
In 1927, Ede Brada led a choreographed performance that was staged at the Royal Opera House, Budapest.
In 1934, Vasili Vainonen staged a performance that aimed at addressing the issues that were raised in the 1892 production that was deemed a failure.
The first ever full production of the Nutcracker ballet performed outside Russia was in 1934, in England. The performance was staged by Nicholas Sergeyev. After the 1934 performance, several other performances have been staged outside Russia.
Annual performances have been staged since 1952 in different theatres and ballet companies. Many theatres present the ballet during the Christmas season and all through winter.
The first ballet performance in the US was staged in San Francisco, in 1944. The San Francisco production was produced by William Christensen.
In 1954, George Balanchine decided to change and modify a few roles in the Nutcracker ballet. George’s version became a great success. In fact, many productions staged today are based on George’s version.