The Classic Christmas Story Ballet
The genesis of a Christmas story by Nutcracker is a fairy tale ballet that features two events focusing on the celebration of a Family Christmas Eve. The tale adaption of Alexandre Dumas Pere by E.T.A. Hoffmann was choreographed and music by Tchaikovsky. It was commissioned by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theater in Moscow in 1891. This ballet is arguably the most popular performance since its debut in Western countries in the 1940s. The narrative concentrates on the Christmas Eve of a little girl and the wake of her to the broader world. Before the ballet’s December 1892 premiere, the composer chose eight of the more popular pieces to form what is now known as the Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, as heard in Moscow Ballet performances. The sequence was an instant success, but the full ballet did not become well-known as a Christmas theatrical event until almost a century later.
Performance History and the Premiere in St. Petersburg
The first performance of the Christmas ballet took place over the Christmas holiday season, on December 18 [O.S. December 6] 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a double premiere alongside Tchaikovsky’s final opera, Iolanta. The Christmas ballet was created by Lev Ivanov, Second Balletmaster of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, and Marius Petipa, Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres and widely recognized as the Father of Russian Ballet.Riccardo Drigo led the cast, which included Antoinetta Dell-Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as her Prince, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara/Masha, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker Prince, and Timofei Stukolkin as Uncle Drosselmeyer. More information about Tchaikovsky’s iconic ‘Nutcracker’ score
In Europe and the United States
The Christmas ballet was first performed outside of Russia in 1934, in England. The San Francisco Ballet presented its debut performance in the United States in 1944, directed by creative director and Balanchine pupil Willam Christensen. The New York City Ballet premiered George Balanchine’s Nutcracker in 1954, but the holiday ballet did not gain popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a smash in New York City. The now-famous Christmas story has been adapted into several book forms, including colorful children’s editions. The narrative focuses around Clara Stahlbaum, a German girl, and her coming-of-age during the Christmas holiday. In Hoffmann’s story, the girl’s name is Marie or Maria, and one of her dolls is named Clara – or “Klärchen.” Masha is her loving name in The Great Russian Nutcracker.
History of Composition
Tchaikovsky accepted the contract from Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatres, writing to a friend while creating the ballet, “I am daily getting more and more attuned to my work.” Tchaikovsky is reported to have clashed with a friend while writing the music for the delightful Christmas story, who bet that the composer could not construct a tune based on the notes of the octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky inquired if it made a difference whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was told that it did not. This culminated in the Grand Adage from the second act’s Grand Pas de Deux, in which Clara/Masha dances with her miraculous Christmas gift, the Nutcracker Prince.
The Nutcracker’s score is notable for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already used in his far less well-known symphonic ballad, The Voyevoda (premiere 1891). Although it is best known in The Nutcracker as the main solo instrument in Act II’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” it is also used elsewhere in the same act.
The Great Russian Nutcracker by the Moscow Ballet
The “Great Russian Nutcracker,” a rendition of the Nutcracker ballet performed by the Moscow Ballet, incorporates additional distinctive aspects in the telling of the traditional Christmas tale. The setting in the Moscow Ballet rendition is Moscow, and the city’s iconic onion-domed skyline serves as a backdrop. Ded Moroz (Father Christmas) and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), traditional Russian folk figures, accompany Masha and the Nutcracker Prince to their dream world in Act II.
Finally, the “Dove of Peace,” which is unique to the Moscow Ballet rendition, welcomes the pair to the “Land of Peace and Harmony,” also known as “The Land of Sweets.” Stanislov Vlasov, former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and choreographer/ballet master of Moscow Ballet’s first 1993 Great Russian Nutcracker, and partner Lilia Sabitova, People’s Artist of Russia, inspired the “Dove of Peace.”
“The Russian ballet style is elegant, expansive, brimful with feeling, knockout male dancer…confers an unusual thrill, and…Kids…were wide-eyed with delight,”
The New York Times, Alastair Macaulay, Chief Dance Critic, 2010
“Perhaps one of the most magical moments of all, was delivered by a truly excellent Snow Forest corps, a veritable highlight excelling in both synchrony and grace. Both male and female corps were outstanding all night.”
Calgary Herald, Stephan Bonfield 2014
“Acclaimed dancers Anatolie Ustimov and Alisa Voronova…lead a cast of traditionalists who treat theGreat Russian Nutcracker as the spectacular, globe-spanning institution that it is.”
Denver Post, John Wenzel 2014
“[Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker]…lively and resourceful with an unusual array of bright, painted backdrops adding to the Christmas cheer…disarmingly poetic…faultless mastery of the steps…bravura expertise.”
– Los Angeles Times 2013 Lewis Segal