The Art Deco Nutcracker - December 06 - December 08, 2019




In 1890, A. Vsevolozhsky, Director of Imperial Theatres in Russia, planned The Nutcracker as a repeat of the collaboration that had created the huge 1890 success Sleeping Beauty. The collaborations included himself, Tchaikovsky, and chief choreographer of the Imperial Theatres, M.I. Petipa. Petipa presented Tchaikovsky with a very detailed libretto, specifying not only the types of music and nature of the characters, but also the tempos, the numbers of bars for actions, and even the pieces of music from which he wanted Tchaikovsky to borrow melodies. Petipa took the story not directly from Hoffman's The Nutcracker and The King of the Mice, but from a French version of the tale written by Alexander Dumas, The Nutcracker of Nuremberg.


From the beginning, Petipa intended to cast children in the ballet. In Act I, he originally asked for children to perform a series of national dances. Soon after Tchaikovsky received the libretto, Petipa told him to move these dances to Act II. The transfer to professional adults allowed both the choreographer and the composer much more freedom.


In June 1891, Tchaikovsky ordered from Paris the newly invented celesta to use in The Nutcracker.  He wrote, "Have it sent directly to St. Petersburg...but no one there must know about it. I am afraid others might hear of it and make use of the effect before I could. I expect the instrument will make a tremendous sensation." Tchaikovsky used the celesta to follow Petipa's instructions that the Sugar Plum Fairy's music must sound like the sprays of a fountain.


In Spring 1892, Tchaikovsky premiered the Nutcracker Ballet Suite, an eight-part concert version of the ballet music. At least six times, the audience demanded immediate encores of specific music selections.  Because of the Suite's instant success, the score was published even before the ballet premiered.


In September, rehearsals began for The Nutcracker at the Mariinsky Theatre. Petipa withdrew as the choreographer because of illness and was replaced by Lev Ivanov.  Generally, Ivanov is credited with the choreography. Newspapers began referring to the beauty of the costumes and sets.


On December 17, The Nutcracker premiered to mixed reviews, some worrying that its lush orchestration made the ballet music unsuitable for dancing. Agrippina Vaganova, the famous Russian ballet teacher, said: "Connoisseurs of ballet purposely took seats in the upper tier to admire the beautiful patterns of the 'Waltz of the Snowflakes' performed by sixty dancers".


In its first three seasons, The Nutcracker was performed fourteen times. It probably faded from the Mariinsky repertory with Ivanov's death in 1901 but was revived in 1909 by N. Sergeyev, a student at the time of the premiere. His notes about the choreography and the production are the documentary link to the original ballet. In 1934, he used these resources to help produce in London the first complete Nutcracker outside of Russia. The documents are now at Harvard University.


In 1919, the Bolshoi Ballet performed the first Nutcracker in Moscow. The little girl, Masha, was played by an adult ballerina who performed the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux with the Nutcracker, who was then transformed into a prince; and took the dances originally given to the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier.


In 1954, George Balanchine brought a legacy of authentic experience to his productions for New York City Ballet. In Russia, he had been a student at the Mariinsky School, where his Nutcracker roles advanced from the toy soldier to Prince. He was coached by dancers from the original production, especially Pavel Gerdt, the original Cavalier/Prince.


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