I used to be one of those crazy people who danced in 500 performances of The Nutcracker every year. Now I'm an even crazier person who goes to watch 500 performances of The Nutcracker every year. And as someone who's seen all kinds of versions from all kinds of angles, I can tell you that few Nutcrackers compare to the marvelous confection George Balanchine choreographed for New York City Ballet in 1954.
NYCB in the snow scene from Balanchine's Nutcracker (photo by Paul Kolnik)
Odds are you know the Balanchine Nut pretty well, thanks to the 1993 film version starring one Macaulay Culkin. But do you know the history of the production?
Turns out, it's totally fascinating. Dance writer Laura Jacobs recently penned a wonderful story for Vanity Fair about how this Nutcracker came to be, and it's full of gems. Did you know that there's a trap under the Koch Theater stage constructed specifically for the giant tree? That Balanchine lifted the Candy Cane divertissement straight out of the Mariinsky Ballet Nutcracker he performed in as a young dancer? That the cape the Grandmother wears today is from the original 1954 production? That before the Arabian dance became an awesomely slinky solo for a woman, it starred a man with a hookah and four little girls dressed as parrots (!!!)?
There's a heck of a lot more where that came from: Read the whole story here. And once visions of sugar plums are dancing in your heads, watch the Sugar Plum pas de deux from the film version, starring Darci Kistler and Damian Woetzel, below.