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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2011

21 - The Nutcracker: a cultural icon

from Part IV - The twentieth century: tradition becomes modern


In 1892, when The Nutcracker premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, it received mixed reviews. Like other Imperial Russian ballets, it featured flashes of brilliance from a talented cast, but it had a rather ordinary plot about a girl who receives a magical Christmas gift. Even the Tchaikovsky score failed to win unequivocal approval because it was more symphonic than the music that usually accompanied a ballet at the time. No one suspected The Nutcracker would eventually become the most popular and most often performed ballet in the world. This transformation from the least respected of the three Tchaikovsky ballets (the other two are Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty) into the most visible and lucrative of all classical ballets, is a story of virtual immigration. There are no borders at which ballets must clear customs and The Nutcracker never actually left its homeland, as other immigrants do; nonetheless, like all successful transplants, it thrived in a new location by adapting in creative and unexpected ways. Through all the changes, the ballet has retained much of its “genetic material” – the Tchaikovsky score, a version of the original libretto, some ideas and steps from the original Lev Ivanov choreography and the aura of its distinguished ballet heritage.