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Connecticut Nutcracker Ballet
Nutcracker History

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker is a two act fantasy tale made famous by the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), who is universally recognized as one of the greatest classical composers of all time. He composed the musical work in 1891–92 under the commission of Marius Petipa, who himself was acclaimed as one of the most accomplished choreographers of his time. Pepita commissioned the work in connection with a new ballet production based on a story written 65 years earlier called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) in the year 1816, which was subsequently adapted by Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870). Dumas transformed the story from a darker tale into a lighter, uplifting theme along the lines of the modern story version.

Nutcracker and The Mouse King by E.T.A. HoffmannThe Nutcracker ballet was first performed on December 5, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theatre, in St. Petersburg, Russia. By all accounts the original public performance was an utter failure, and was panned by critics and audiences alike. As one critic of the era reported “for dancers there is rather little in it, for art absolutely nothing, and for the artistic fate of our ballet, one more step downward."

This resounding failure was due to misfortune. Tchaikovsky and Peptipa had previously collaborated in the celebrated and widely acclaimed “Sleeping Beauty” and it was anticipated among the performing arts community that their new collaboration was sure to be another master work. Unfortunately, Peptipa became very ill, which required his less talented assistant, Lev Ivanov, to assume the job of choreographing the production. As they say, “the rest is history.” The ballet disappeared from the public for over 50 years.

Marius PeptipaDespite its inauspicious beginnings, this ballet has become the most popular ballet performed in Western countries like the United States. It has become part of the fabric of the holiday tradition, being particularly popular around Christmas time due to its theme. Also, the ballet’s popularity can be attributed to it being particularly accessible and pleasing to young audiences because of its playful and fanciful nature, and well has having a fairly well delineated storyline that more casual observers of ballet can follow.

While the original ballet was unpopular, the music was an instant success, which may also have heavily contributed to the ultimate resurgence and popularity of the ballet. Prior to the ballet’s public debut, the suite was first performed under Tchaikovsky’s direction on March 19, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia before the local Musical Society, and received wide acclaim.

George BalanchineThe modern popularity and association of the Nutcracker with the holiday season is most credited to the great ballet director and choreographer George Balanchine who reintroduced it New York City audiences in 1954. His inspiration probably came, in part, from the San Francisco Ballet, which performed the Nutcracker ballet for the first time in the United States in 1944. George Ballenge, an aging Ballet teacher at the San Francisco Ballet, is credited for its introduction to American audiences. He recalled performing dances to the Nutcracker as a child in Russia some 40 years earlier. Balanchine, who is readily recognized as one of the greatest ballet choreographers of the modern era, however is rightfully credited with revitalizing the production with the New York City Ballet and creating the Nutcracker tradition we enjoy today. It is also worth noting that he too had performed the Nutcracker as a child in Russia, and the San Francisco influence may be somewhat overstated. Thus, even though the Nutcracker Ballet appeared to ignominiously disappear into history’s bin of failed projects, the influence of a great master like Tchaikovsky would influence the dance and musical celebration of many Russian children of the day, and this gift would be passed down through time and re-emerge as a truly authentic and joyful Christmas Holiday tradition through a later genius in the person of Balanchine.

 

 
 
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The Nutcracker makes for a great holiday group outing. Organizations ordering 10 tickets or more for an event receive special discounted rates. For youth groups, ask us about our post show Meet the Dancers and Autograph signing session.

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