December 18, 2010

First Performance of The Nutcracker – 1892

On this day in 1892, the now-famous ballet The Nutcracker was performed for the first time. It was performed at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. (St. Petersburg has also been called Petrograd and Leningrad. The name is often shortened to Petersburg or even Piter.)

The composer chosen to create the music for the ballet, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was given a simplified story about a girl who gets a nutcracker doll for Christmas and who watches in shock as the nutcracker and some other toys fight an army of mice. When she helps her nutcracker win by throwing a slipper at the Mouse King, the nutcracker is transformed into a prince and whisks the girl off to the magical Land of Sweets. Tchaikovsky was given a lot of structure—the composition of each number, including the tempo and length, and he was not eager to work with all those constraints. Yet he managed to create arguably the most popular and enduring of his works!

The reception of this first performance was a bit mixed. Most critics were pretty harsh about the dancing and choreography, yet most were positive about Tchaikovsky's music. It probably would have shocked the more negative critics if they could have known how many times this ballet would be performed and filmed and watched and enjoyed all over the world—especially in the U.S. from the 1950s on.

Celebrate The Nutcracker:

  • Watch it. My kids loved the ballet danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov, which was filmed for television. Many other versions are available on video, including the ballet on ice and the story as an animated feature (with no dancing).

Also, part of Tchaikovsky's “Nutcracker Suite” was used for one of my favorite segments of the animated Disney classic Fantasia. So you could watch that movie, as well.
You can find lots of bits and pieces of the ballet on YouTube. For example, here is one version of the Chinese Tea dance. 
Best of all, make plans to go see a production this holiday season.

  • Read the story. (Double click a page to turn to the next page.) 

  • Make a nutcracker, courtesy of KabooseOr color a special Nutcracker picture

  • Kaboose has an entire page about the ballet with a lot of cool links. 

  • Listen to bits of music from the ballet. 

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