A world of Nutcrackers


New York City Ballet in ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Christmas …..  and the world of ballet is once again in thrall to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker which never fails to delight, bringing with it the magic and sparkle of the festive season.

This enchanting ballet was originally based on E T A Hoffman’s 1816 fairy tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which was actually a somewhat frightening story, and really only intended for adults. Some years later, however, Alexander Dumas père reworked the story to make it more suitable for children, and Marius Petipa, chief ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet was so taken with this version that he decided to create a ballet around it.  He commissioned Tchaikovsky to write the music, and Lev Ivanov, his assistant at the Imperial Ballet, to choreograph it.  The Nutcracker received its world premiere on December 18th, 1892, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

New York City Ballet’s production bears the title George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™, having been created by the master choreographer for the company he had founded, with Lincoln Kirstein, in 1948.  Balanchine was a 15-year-old student when he first danced the role of the Prince in the Mariinsky Theatre’s 1919 production in St Petersburg.  On February 2nd, 1954, as ballet master and principal choreographer of New York City Ballet, he premiered his own version of the ballet at the City Center of Music and Drama.


New York City Ballet in ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

The glorious costume design, by Academy Award-winning Barbara Karinska, has been retained to this day, as has the scenic design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian.  From the one-ton Christmas tree that grows to a height of 40 feet, to the fluttering, crystal-shaped snowflakes in the Kingdom of the Snow, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™is known as one of the most complex theatrical staged ballets in the Company’s active repertoire.

New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ runs at the David H Koch Theater until January 4th.  Further information and details on tickets can be found on the Company’s website.


Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ with Marion Tait as Mrs Stalhbaum
Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Sir Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker for Birmingham Royal Ballet opened in the city on December 5th.  It’s been described by The Sunday Times as “…… sumptuous, with thrilling transformation scenes”, and “Unforgettable” by The Stage. It was on December 29th, 1990 – the year in which the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet relocated to Birmingham – that the Company, which became known as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, presented its first performance of The Nutcracker.  Choreography, based on the original by Lev Ivanov, is by Sir Peter Wright and Vincent Redmon.  Sir Peter’s motivation for his version of The Nutcracker was “simply to create the warmest, most magical ballet that the audience had ever experienced”, and he dedicated it to the City of Birmingham to show his gratitude for its support for the Company.


Aaron Robison as King Rat in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker runs from December 5th to 12th, at the Birmingham Hippodrome.  For further information, please visit the Company’s website, and follow this link for tickets.

On December 6th, Sir Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker for the London-based Royal Ballet opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  Sparkling with theatrical magic, it features designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, who has drawn on 19th century images of Christmas for this classic festive presentation.


Sarah Lamb as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Johan Persson

The Royal Ballet has unearthed some fascinating facts about The Nutcracker – looking, for example, at the sort of challenges which Tchaikovsky faced when Marius Petipa created the scenario for this ballet.  In Act II, the composer at least had the guidance of the different countries represented by the national dances, for his inspiration, but for the Sugar Plum Fairy?  With his customary creativity, Tchaikovsky found a simple, and rather radical solution – he decided to use an entirely new instrument, the céleste, which has a sound similar to that of the glockenspiel, but with a softer and more subtle tone.  Invented in 1886 by Auguste Mustel, only six years before the premiere of The Nutcracker, the céleste doubtless took its name from its delicate, bell-like sound which translates from the French as “heavenly”.

The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker runs at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from December 6th to January 16th.  For more information and tickets, please visit The Royal Opera House website.


Drosselmeyer entertains the children in San Francisco Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Erik Tomasson

It was on Christmas Eve in 1944 that The Nutcracker was seen in America for the first time – a performance given by San Francisco Ballet.  Then, in 2004, Helgi Tomasson, the Company’s Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer, staged a new production, one that would belong wholly to San Francisco.  Tomasson set his production in 1915, the year of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in the city, 
so the home of the Stahlbaums takes its place alongside the ‘Painted Ladies’, the elegant Victorian-style houses on Alamo Square, where Drosselmeyer presents Clara with the intriguing nutcracker doll which – transformed into a prince – escorts her on a magical journey through the City.  Taken through the Land of Snow, Clara finds herself surrounded by the blossoms and butterflies of the ‘Garden in the Pavilion of Dreams’ – a scene inspired by the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.  Her journey continues with a trip around the world, during which the Sugar Plum Fairy hosts a festival of dance, calling on a succession of dancers to entertain Clara, culminating in the entrancing Waltz of the Flowers.


The Arabian dance from San Francisco Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker takes place at the War Memorial Opera House from December 11th to 29th.  For further information and tickets, please visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

American Ballet Theatre opens its Christmas spectacular on December 13th. Choreographed by Artist in Residence, Alexei Ratmansky, this production of The Nutcracker has sets and costumes by Tony® Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion King), and was given its world premiere on December 23rd, 2010.


The battle scene from American Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

According to The New York Times, American Ballet Theatre “….. has a production like no other.  Made with complete theatrical authority from first to last.   The poetry of Alexei Ratmansky’s vision is very striking.  I’m impatient to see it again”.

The production runs from December 13th to 22nd at BAM Howard Gilman Opera house.  For more information please visit the American Ballet Theatre website.


Dramatic scene from the Mariinsky’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Valentin Baranovsky

Home to the world premiere of The Nutcracker in 1892, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg presents the Mariinsky Ballet’s 2013 production from December 21st to 31st. The Mariinsky Theatre, which has been providing the world with a wealth of great artistes for more than two centuries, can trace its history as far back as 1783, when a Decree on the establishment of a theatre committee “for performances and music” was published on July 12th of that year, and the Bolshoi Stone Theatre was opened on Carousel Square, which even today is known as Theatre Square.  The theatre which stands on that site today was named the Mariinsky in honour of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II, and opened its first season on October 2nd, 1860, from where the great traditions of Russian musical theatre emerged.  Amongst the ballet dancers whose names have graced the stage of the theatre were Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and, of course, George Balanchine.


Homage to the Sugar Plum Fairy – the Mariinsky’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Valentin Baranovsky

The Mariinsky Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker is imbued with tradition, featuring Vasily Vainonen’s 1934 choreography, with which the ballet premiered on February 18th of that year, at what was then known as the Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Leningrad.  A revival, designed by Simon Virsaladze, was premiered at the same theatre on March 21st, 1954, and this is the production which will entrance audiences in St Petersburg this Christmas season.

The Mariinksy Ballet’s The Nutcracker runs at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, from December 21st to 31st.  For further information and tickets, please visit the Mariinsky website where you’ll also find details of performances of the ballet by students of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.


The party scene from the Mariinsky’s 3D cinema production of ‘The Nutcracker’
Photo credit: Valentin Baranovsky

If you can’t get to St Petersburg, and you’re in the United States during December, you might catch a cinema production of the Mariinsky Theatre’s The Nutcracker, filmed at the historic St Petersburg theatre.  SpectiCast, More2Screen and EuroArts Music are bringing to the cinema screen this traditional, sumptuous presentation of the ballet in 3D and 2D.

For details and dates of these screenings, please visit  the Specticast website (scroll down to the foot of the page for the schedule).

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