STAGE TUBE: George Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER Premieres on February 2, 1954
February 2, 1954 marks the 59th anniversary of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. What? Wasn't it presented in December? No, you are wrong. It was first unveiled by the New York City Ballet on February 2 in 1954 for a few performances. It proved so popular that the company presented the ballet for an extended December run in 1954. It's been like ever since.
The original Nutcracker began as a rather somber and frightening story by E.T.A. Hoffman. The French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote a more upbeat version a few years later that so appealed to the Premier Ballet Master of the Imperial Theatre, Marius Petipa, that he decided to mount a ballet with a commissioned score by Tchaikovsky.
Although Petipa prepared the libretto, illness prevented him from completing the choreography so his assistant, Lev Ivanov, was brought in to help. To this day no one is sure who did what. That's dance history!
The ballet was premiered in December 1892 at the Mariinsky on a double bill with Tchaikovsky's last opera Iolanta. It was not exactly greeted with unanimous critical praise. The critics were not crazy about the children and disliked the fact that the grand pas de deux did not appear until late in the second act. The music was generally well received with some quibbles about the party scene and the pas de deux. We know who had the last laugh!
A complete performance of the ballet outside Russia was presented in London in 1934, staged by Nicholas Sergeyev. An abridged version with choreography by Alexandra Fedorova was performed by The Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo in 1940. The first American production was presented by the San Francisoco Ballet in December 1944, choreographed by the company's artistic director, Lewis Christensen. While all these versions had their supporters it wasn't until Balanchine's version appeared that Nutcracker performances mushroomed throughout the United States
Although Balanchine's version seems to be the gold standard, there have been other choreographic interpretations by Rudolf Nureyev, Yuri Grigorovich, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mark Morris, Matthew Osbourne, Helgi Tomasson and, most recently, Alexei Ratmansky.
Now that you've had a short overview sit back and enjoy the ballet's Waltz of the Flowers as danced by Kyra Nichols and choreographed by-guess!