Dance News

The Nutty History of "The Nutcracker"

Getty Images

The Nutcracker has become an essential part of the holiday season—not to mention a part of most dancers' DNA. These days, the ballet is a beloved tradition, and the lifeblood of many dance companies, whose budgets depend on its reliably great ticket sales. But did you know that it was a flop when it first premiered in Russia? Or that George Balanchine himself once played Drosselmeyer on TV? Here's a timeline of the rich history of The Nutcracker.


1816

Getty Images

E.T.A. Hoffmann writes the fairy tale Nutcracker and Mouse King—and it is dark. The story follows a young girl, Marie, who travels to the Land of Toys to help her beloved Nutcracker defeat a seven-headed Mouse King with brainwashing powers(!).


1845

French writer Alexandre Dumas adapts Hoffmann's work into The Tale of the Nutcracker, a lighter take on the story that would become the inspiration for the ballet.


1891

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky begins to compose The Nutcracker, the last of his three ballets (after Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty). While traveling in Paris, he discovers a new bell-toned instrument called the celesta, which he ends up using for the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy variation. Marius Petipa begins to choreograph the ballet, but becomes ill during the process. Mariinsky Ballet ballet master Lev Ivanov completes the choreography.


1892

Getty Images

The Nutcracker premieres at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, with the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy danced by Italian ballerina Antoinetta dell'Era. Though selections from the score were well-received in concert a few months earlier, critics call the ballet "an insult," and it's quickly removed from the company's repertory.


1893

Tchaikovsky dies without knowing what a success his holiday ballet would become.


1940

Courtesy All CDCovers.com

Walt Disney includes music from Tchaikovsky's score in the animated movie Fantasia, helping American audiences get to know (and fall in love with) The Nutcracker's music. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo tours the United States with a condensed version of The Nutcracker. The performances are well-received, and the Ballet Russe continues to dance its abbreviated Nut in the U.S. for the next decade.


1944

San Francisco Ballet in the first version of "The Nutcracker" (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

The San Francisco Ballet presents the first complete version of The Nutcracker in the United States, choreographed by William Christensen and premiering on Christmas Eve. While choreographing, Christensen seeks the advice of ballerina Alexandra Danilova and choreographer George Balanchine, both of whom danced in the original Nutcracker production at the Mariinsky.


1953

Balanchine, now leader of the New York City Ballet, is asked to edit out the dramatic growing tree from his new production of The Nutcracker due to budget constraints. He refuses, saying, "No, ballet is the tree."


1954

Maria Tallchief (original Sugarplum) and Erik Bruhn in NYCB's Nutcracker (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

NYCB premieres Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker, starring Maria Tallchief as the Sugarplum Fairy and featuring many dance quotations from the Mariinsky original. The show—Balanchine's first full-length production for the company—is an instant sensation.


1957

Balanchine (right) coaching dancers for the 1957 TV production of "The Nutcracker" (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

CBS airs Balanchine's Nutcracker on national television. Balanchine himself plays Drosselmeyer, Diana Adams is the Sugarplum Fairy, and Allegra Kent dances Dewdrop. The television coverage exposes an even wider audience to the irresistible show.


1964

Photo by Joe Buglewicz, courtesy NYC & Company

New York City Ballet performs The Nutcracker at their new Lincoln Center home for the first time. George Balanchine has the New York State Theater's stage specially constructed to accommodate the tree, which grows from 18 to 41 feet (and weighs 2,200 pounds!)


1983

Lindsi Dec and William Lin-Yee as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in Pacific Northwest Ballet's Maurice Sendak production (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB)

Pacific Northwest Ballet premieres Kent Stowell's version of The Nutcracker, a collaboration with Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak. The production, with imaginative designs by Sendak, explores more of the emotional torment of the original story; ultimately, Clara is left behind in The Land of Sweets. (In 2014, PNB retires the Sendak production and begins performing Balanchine's version.)


1991

Mark Morris Dance Group's "The Hard Nut" (photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group)

Mark Morris premieres The Hard Nut, an offbeat take on the original Hoffmann tale that includes some of the narratives edited out of the traditional ballet. He sets his version in the 1970s United States, and adds modern toys (like GI Joes) and retro designs inspired by the work of comic book artist Charles Burns.


1994

Macaulay Culkin (far right) and Darci Kistler in the 1994 NYCB "Nutcracker" film (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Home Alone's Macaulay Culkin, then a student at the School of American Ballet, plays the Nutcracker prince in Emile Ardolino's film version of Balanchine's Nutcracker.


1996

Donald Byrd premieres The Harlem Nutcracker, featuring Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's jazzy arrangement of Tchaikovsky's score. Celebrating the American black family, it features Clara as a widowed grandmother.


2013

NYC's Department of Cultural Affairs reports 27 productions of The Nutcracker in the Big Apple alone.


Today

Dance companies around the world continue to perform hundreds of productions of The Nutcracker each year, and audiences continue to flock to them. Nut ticket sales account for nearly half of many dance companies' annual income.


A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "The Fascinating (And Sometimes Nutty) History of The Nutcracker."

The Conversation
Health & Body
Via @chelshightower on Instagram

From competing on "So You Think You Can Dance" to performing on "Dancing with the Stars" for seven seasons (and earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the latter), Chelsie Hightower has lived the pro dance dream. Though Hightower retired from "DWTS" several years ago and now teaches and choreographs in her home state of Utah, she admits that her dance career exceeded even her own high expectations. "I've accomplished things that I didn't know were possible," she says.

But most fans of "DWTS" would never have guessed that while filming, the talented and seemingly fearless ballroom pro was facing her fiercest competitor off-camera. Hightower has struggled with anxiety for most of her life, but the issue became especially severe during her years on the show.

With the help of therapy and other coping exercises, Hightower has found healthy ways to manage her anxiety. Now, she hopes that sharing her experience will inspire other dancers struggling with mental illness to get help.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Past "SYTYCD" hopefuls at The Academy (Adam Rose/FOX)

More fabulous TWall routines. More passengers on the Hot Tamale Train. MORE CAT DEELEY BEING DELIGHTFUL.

That's right, y'all: "So You Think You Can Dance" was just renewed for a 16th (!) season, to air this summer on Fox. And audition dates have already been announced.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Dancer Tony Bellissimo on the field at Super Bowl LII (via Instagram)

The Super Bowl is America's most-watched television event. Last year, when the incomparable Justin Timberlake took center field for the halftime show, more than 106 million viewers were watching his every move—and that's not even a record!

What's it like to perform for such an incredibly huge audience? Dancer Tony Bellissimo has plenty of experience with high-pressure dance gigs, having worked with artists including Rihanna, Britney Spears, John Legend, and Chris Brown. But stepping out alongside Timberlake during last year's halftime show was a next-level experience. We talked to Bellissimo about how he scored such a coveted job—and how he handled the pressure.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
screenshot via @donte.colley on Instagram

Y'all, it's time to call a spade a spade: The first month of any New Year kind of sucks. It's way too cold, you're probs failing at one or two of those ambitious resolutions, and spring (with its exciting performing opportunities) feels so very far away. And yet, in the midst of so much darkness, a hero has emerged. His name is Donté Colley, and you're about to double-tap every single thing he's ever posted.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher
Joanne Chapman teaching turns (photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy Joanne Chapman School of Dance)

Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Thinkstock

Dance teachers have to deal with a lot. While open communication with your teacher is obviously key, lame excuses for less-than-great behavior are guaranteed to get on her nerves. Always avoid these seven excuses that will 100 percent get your dance teacher's blood boiling.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?

Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Everyone loves a good meme, and dancers are no exception. Here are 10 of the best dance memes on the internet.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
via @dynamicdancestudios on Instagram

There are dance routines, and then there are dance routines. Andrew, a 21-year-old dancer with Down Syndrome, performed the latter on the new British reality dance show "The Greatest Dancer." He brought the audience to tears as he unabashedly freestyled to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
The Broadway cast of Hamilton (Joan Marcus, courtesy Sam Rudy PR)

Today, January 11, is #AlexanderHamiltonDay: A very happy 264th birthday to Alexander Hamilton! Thanks to this most unlikely of Founding Fathers—a brilliant and ballsy orphaned immigrant who dramatically rose, then fell, then rose again—we have possibly the most successful musical of all time. We also, of course, got priceless GIFs such as this one:

*When your crush walks over and you're trying to act natural but your friends are all like*

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, while we can't get you "in the room where it happens" with tickets to the show's current Broadway, touring, or Puerto Rico productions—the last of which opens tonight!—we CAN offer up some fun ways to fête A.Ham's day of birth. Just you wait:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by 4Star Productions Courtesy Spirit of Dance Awards

The second round of 2018 Future Star winners showcases dancers with singular talent and ability. We're thrilled to celebrate their success!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Every once in a while, the stars align, things fall precisely into place, and the perfect marketing campaign is born. Such is the case with New York City Ballet's new trailer for their upcoming run of The Sleeping Beauty, which was conceived and directed by company soloist Sean Suozzi.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
via @torysport on Instagram

Washington Ballet's Nardia Boodoo is turning heads these days, and not just at the barre. The brilliant ballerina shines in Tory Sport's latest commercial and we can't help but feel a little bit of pride as our March 2018 cover star brings ballet to the masses. What better way to show off stylish and comfy athletic wear than with Boodoo's strong and luminous dancing?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Hall works with students at Dance Conservatory of Charleston. (courtesy Dance Conservatory of Charleston)

As the name suggests, summer intensives are, well, intense, encouraging you to eat, sleep, and breathe dance for a significant chunk of the summer. But they're not for every dancer—or every summer. Maybe you're not ready to be away from home just yet, or you want to spend your last summer with family before going off to college. Intensives can also be expensive, and not every household has the financial flexibility to cover the high cost of auditions, travel, room and board, and tuition. Whatever your reasons for seeking alternatives, it's important to recognize that, when it comes to summer study, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. "The most important thing is to keep dancing," says Lindy Mandradjieff, owner of the Dance Conservatory of Charleston in South Carolina. "Without the added stress of school, you can improve as much in one summer as you would in an entire school year." Here's how to keep up your training even if you don't plan on attending an intensive.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways