The Nutcracker

Description

Artists of the Ballet as The Nutcracker, The Mouse King and Clara in The Nutcracker (1956). Photo by Ken Bell.

 

Our History

Nutcracker Program copy 1   

 

 

The National Ballet of Canada first presented Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker), Act II, on January 28, 1952 at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium. Principal Dancers Irene Apiné and Jury Gotshalks performed the lead roles of The Sugar Plum Fairy and The Nutcracker Prince. Giselle, Act II and Ballet Composite were also on the programme that evening.

The Nutcracker cover from the premiere performance programme (January 28, 1952). 

 Nutcracker head copy 1   

 

Celia Franca choreographed a four-act version of The Nutcracker, which premiered at the Capitol Theatre in Quebec City on November 19, 1955. Kay Ambrose, who also designed over 25 other productions for the National Ballet, designed the sets and costumes. CBC filmed this production and it aired on December 23, 1958.

The Nutcracker papier-mâché mask (ca. 1955). 

 Martine Van Hamel and Frank Schaufuss copy 1   

 

In 1964, the National Ballet re-envisioned The Nutcracker with new choreography by Celia Franca and new sets and costumes by Jürgen Rose. The production premiered on December 26, 1964 featuring Martine van Hamel and Frank Schaufuss as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince. The production cost approximately $100,000 and was at the time the most expensive theatrical production in Canada.

Martine van Hamel and Frank Schaufuss backstage following a performance of The Nutcracker (1964). 

 Clara and Snowmen copy 1   

 

 

The National Ballet performed Celia Franca’s The Nutcracker production annually from 1964 to 1994. Many young dancers who portrayed Clara went on to perform with the company, however, none has ever become a Principal Dancer to date.

Barbara Smith as Clara with Snowmen (1976). 

Read a Toronto Star article about the "Curse of the Claras" 

 Japanese Nutcracker Poster copy 1   

 

In 1992 The National Ballet of Canada toured to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The ballets performed included The Taming of the Shrew, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. The company was joined by students from the Asami Maki Ballet/Tachibana Ballet School and Tomoi Homura Ballet School for performances of The Nutcracker in Japan.

Poster from the Tokyo region of the Tour of the Orient (1992). 

 James Kudelka rehearsal copy 1   

 

On December 21, 1995, the National Ballet premiered a new The Nutcracker with choreography by James Kudelka and sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto. The story is told through the eyes of sister and brother Marie and Misha who are played by students from Canada’s National Ballet School. The first Marie was Susan McElhinney and the first Misha was Warren Benns.

Susan McElhinney, James Kudelka, Warren Benns and Victoria Bertram in rehearsal (1995). 

 

James Leja, Jonathan Renna and Mats Sundin as Cannon Dolls in The Nutcracker with students of Canada's National Ballet School (2007). Small.


 

 

 

 

Did you know celebrities have been performing The Nutcracker with The National Ballet of Canada since 1964? The walk-on roles of Stretcher Bearers in Celia Franca’s production and Cannon Dolls in James Kudelka’s version have been played by a host of Canadian personalities. Notable names include Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, author Pierre Berton, Ron MacLean of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Champion figure skater Kurt Browning, M.P. Olivia Chow, writer Margaret Atwood, Stephen Page of the Barenaked Ladies, CBC Radio’s Tom Allen, CBC Television personality Rick Mercer and CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi.

James Leja, Jonathan Renna and Mats Sundin as Cannon Dolls in The Nutcracker with students of Canada's National Ballet School (2007). 
Toronto Star article. Small. 

 

 

 

Much like the “Curse of the Clara’s” none of the dancers who played the role of Marie in James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker had gone on to dance the role of The Sugar Plum Fairy – until December 2011. First Soloist Elena Lobsabova who played Marie as a student of Canada’s National Ballet School in 1997 and 1998, made her debut as The Sugar Plum Fairy on December 17.

Read the Toronto Star article about breaking the curse 

Your Stories

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"On December 31, 1966 after The National Ballet of Canada had finished a performance run of The Nutcracker at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre, the company was scheduled to travel to Vancouver with the production and perform in a few days time. But the freight car carrying the company’s sets and costumes had been side-railed and no commercial airline or the Canadian National Railway could guarantee they would arrive on time. Artistic Director Celia Franca refused to believe that the situation was hopeless, and phoned the only person in the country who had the power to rescue the situation by sending out an air force plane on a rescue mission - the Minister of Defense Paul Hellyer. Hellyer immediately agreed and dispatched a Hercules transport plane from Cold Lake, Alberta on "Mission National Ballet". On January 4, 1967 the curtains opened at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre to full sets and costumes."

Carol Bishop-Gwyn, Audience Member and Author of The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca

"On December 22, 2012 I attended The Nutcracker with my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter - this will be the best memory of the season. She sat and listened to the story and then sat and watched the full ballet - except at the beginning when she wanted to dance beside her chair. During intermission she chose to perform for people in the lobby. For the last two months we have been watching the different performances of The Nutcracker on YouTube and she will sit for hours and watch and then do her version of the dances. On the way home to Port Hope on the train she was telling everyone that she went to the ballet. She will be beginning dance classes next spring and we are looking forward to seeing another ballet by the National Ballet - beautiful and very special memories now - thank you!"

Miss Deborah Wood, Audience Member, Less than 5 years 

"At Christmas time in 1964, I was with my two children watching The Nutcracker. Sitting beside us was a lively young man who was enjoying himself and our two children’s pleasure. He was Rudolf Nureyev. His excitement at watching the performance was contagious. A few weeks later, my husband and I saw him dance with Lynn Seymour in La Sylphide. No male dancer has ever excited me as much as he did. I am eighty years old and I remember it like it was yesterday.

- Mrs. Louise Slemin, Audience Member, 45+ years 

"When I used to play the harp in the National Ballet Orchestra I was able to watch part of the show from the orchestra pit. The final performances of Celia Franca's Nutcracker were always hilarious, in particular the improvised mayhem during the battle scene. I don't know whether the audience was aware that the Three Blind Mice (complete with dark glasses and canes), and the inept Laurel-and-Hardy Stretcher Bearers for the cookie were not part of the usual choreography. I was always captivated by the humour of this production. The Mouse King was killed by being scared to death by a stuffed cat. After the scene with the fantastic dancing dolls, (carried off, stiff as boards), two gentlemen did the "After you, Alphonse" routine until one finally had to get off the stage. I have not seen a Nutcracker since that I love as much as this one."

- Mrs. Elizabeth Volpé Bligh, Alumni, Musician 1976-1982 

"Wow... Where to start... This won't be a very long memory however it will be an everlasting one. I was very lucky to see one of the last shows of The Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve. I have always loved to watch dancing however I had never made it to the ballet. Macho male ego I guess. Boy have I ever been an idiot to adopt that attitude. I loved every minute of The Nutcracker. Whenever my girlfriend looked at me I was either on the edge of my seat or grinning from ear to ear. Catherine was grinning too watching the male dancers - talk about fitness at a new level! Maybe I should cut back on some of the chicken wings I eat. I loved the ballet so much that I raced home and quickly became a fan of The National Ballet of Canada on Facebook. I was actually quite happily surprised that the National Ballet liked the comment I posted about attending my first ballet. By the way, the countdown is on for the opening of La Fille mal gardée on the 29th of February to hurry up and get here.
Ladies and gentlemen of the National Ballet - please keep up the beautiful work. Ms. Kain - thank you for making it such an amazing experience.
Maybe my first ballet memory isn't so short after all.

- Kristopher Urech, Audience Member, Less than 5 years 

"Back in the 80's, my brother, who was undergoing cancer treatment, and I were able to be in The Nutcracker as Stretcher Bearers. We got to do a little performance on stage and then pick up and carry off a stretcher. I loved it very much."

- Ms. Elisabeth Burrow, Audience Member & Daughter of a Donor, 10+ years 

"It was December 1998, my husband and I were new in Canada and were expecting our second child. My mother was visiting from overseas and taking her to see The Nutcracker would be a fantastic opportunity for bonding. When I was little she would take my sister and I to the beautiful ballets of Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro. It was our first time watching a ballet performance in our new country and The Nutcracker was unforgettable. I was very pregnant and while snow flakes, soldiers and flowers danced I could feel my baby's movements... dancing in my belly!!
Some years have passed since this magical performance and The Nutcracker has become our family tradition. My little baby has grown into a lovely dancer and has ever since been captivated by The National Ballet of Canada's Nutcracker. She was a little mice jumping out of the bed, one lovely lamb and now looks forward to battling rats in the battle scene. Thanks to The National Ballet of Canada for memorable perfomances and for keeping us all a loyal audience!"

- Mrs. Claudia Baptista, Audience Member 10+ years 

"I have been dancing ever since I was 4 years old, and have always enjoyed the music and magic that comes along with the ballet. Since my birthday is in the month of December, starting on my about 6th birthday, my grandma would take me and my sister to see The Nutcracker every year. She would have us get all dressed up to go to the theatre, and we would spend the afternoon there where I was always in awe by the technique, passion, and magic of the dancers. Over the past few years I have grown busier with school, and I do see my grandmother still, but not as much as I used to. However, I will never forget those magical birthdays spent with my grandmother at the theatre which inspires me to work harder to achieve the same magic onstage that I first saw with every dancer from The Sugar Plum Fairy, down to the little mice and lambs."

- Maya, Audience Member 

"When I was 12 years old, I remember Rudolph Nureyev leaving the USSR and coming to Toronto. This huge ballet star was going to be dancing in the performance of The Nutcracker! This was such big news in the early 1970's. Being just 12 years old and just recently being exposed to classical music at school, I discovered Tchaikovsky and this magical and beautiful suite of music and I became obsessed with the music and everything involved with The Nutcracker. My own family could not afford to give me ballet lessons or for me to attend any of the performances throughout the years. As a young adult, I took beginner ballet and enjoyed so much the experience. Throughout the decades I married and had two children and never got the chance to see a performance of The Nutcracker.
In January 2003, my beloved father passed away suddenly. I shared his love of music and could not listen to classical music because of the memories that would come flooding back. In December of 2003 my loving husband gave me the greatest gift I could ever have. He ordered 2 tickets for my daughter and I to attend the National Ballet's The Nutcracker! I was in disbelief and shock! I was 44 years old and had wished and wanted so badly to attend a performance for so many years. The night before the Sunday matinee, I could not sleep because I was so excited. It was as if I were a young child again. When we walked into the lobby we could not believe the beauty of the theatre, and the souvenirs - I treated myself to a pair of pointe shoes worn by Heather Ogden and a souvenir programme. Imagine my delight when Heather Ogden in full costume as The Sugar Plum Fairy was in the lobby signing autographs. I gave the pair of pointe shoes that I had bought to her to sign! I was in complete awe at the beauty of this moment! When we entered the theatre, we walked down and down and I asked my daughter if she knew where we were going to be seated. She had no idea. I said as we got closer to the stage that there must be some mistake. When we got to the seventh row from the stage, direct center, our tickets matched the seat numbers and I couldn't move for sheer shock. My daughter had to remind me to sit down. The music started and the familiar Tchaikovsky score filled my mind and soul. I started to become so overwhelmed and tears flowed freely. My dream after so many decades had become a reality. This beautiful and most special time I will carry with me always for it meant so much to me. The autographed Ogden slippers sit in my living room for all to admire and to remind me of seeing that National Ballet performance."

- Mrs. Dana Davidson, Audience Member, 5+ years  

“I joined The National Ballet of Canada Orchestra in September 1980 on trombone. My first performance with the company was in Montreal on the 1980 fall tour. I have been to many places in the world that I wouldn't have gotten to if it were not for the ballet tours - Newfoundland to British Columbia, Germany four times, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United States. I even went through Checkpoint Charlie before the Berlin Wall came down. My 31 years with the company have been a terrific experience. I have performed The Nutcracker 642 times with the National Ballet. Fortunately it is terrific music.”

- David Archer, Orchestra Member, Over 30 years 

"In grade 4, I saw The Nutcracker with my class on a school trip. I'll never forget the beautiful dancers and music. I fell in love with ballet and have been a fan ever since."

- Ioana Radulescu, Audience Member 

"I turned 16 years old in October 2011 and realized that this year would be the 13th consecutive year that my Mother and I would celebrate Christmas by coming to see the National Ballet's performance of "The Best Nutcracker on the Planet!" Although I have seen many other incredible ballets performed by the company, it's The Nutcracker that's closest to my heart. I've seen it danced at both the Hummingbird Centre and the fabulous Four Seasons Centre, and haven't missed a year (which is quite impressive, since we haven't lived in the Toronto area since I was 6!) Somehow, every December we make it back to Toronto, and our Christmas gift to one another is sitting side by side, waiting for the orchestra to begin. No matter what the weather or what has happened up until that point in the month, for me and my Mom Christmas officially begins when the orchestra strikes up the overture and Peter comes dancing and sweeping across the stage. Thank you for this memory and family tradition. It is irreplaceable for us, and has brought us great joy for many, many years!"

- Miss Katherine Leach-Russo, Audience Member, Fan and Junior Researcher, 10+ years 

"My mother took me to see The Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Centre when I was a little girl. This was about 45 years ago. It was the first ballet I'd ever seen, and I was enchanted by the music, The Sugar Plum Fairy, and especially the Christmas tree that grew to fill the stage. After the O'Keefe Centre became the Hummingbird Centre, I took my son to his first ballet, The Nutcracker of course! As the orchestra played the opening strains of the overture, tears streamed down my face. I was struck by how quickly time passed, but also by the profound joy I felt, now that I was able to pass on to my son the gift my mother had given to me. This Christmas, I will take my mother to The Nutcracker at Four Seasons Centre. She has not seen the ballet since my childhood visit. I know my tears will flow again, for the passage of time and the constancy of a treasured gift."

- Ms. Liz Warman, Audience Member, 40+ years 

"My fondest memory is being part of The Nutcracker and Cinderella productions in 1969 and 1970. I was studying at the National Ballet School and was chosen to play the Naughty Girl in The Nutcracker and had several parts in Cinderella. I will remember this experience forever. I love The National Ballet of Canada and I am now a volunteer."

Ms. Sylvie Allard, Audience Member, Volunteer Committee Member & Volunteer, 30+ years 

"My daughter Madeleine seemed to be born with a passion for dance. When she was 3 she was compelled to dance - she simply got up and started to dance as the credits were running for the movie Fly Away Home. She had never seen a ballet at that point, yet she jeted and did pirouettes in time to the soundtrack of the film with great intensity. She has been dancing ever since. My husband and I were able to take her to her first ballet, The Nutcracker, when she was 4. It was financially difficult for us but worth every cent in happiness. She sat way up in Ring 5 mesmerized by it all. She stood through the entire performance so that she could have a better view. She did not complain once about being uncomfortable. I just remember the extreme joy on  her face as she took it all in - the music, the costumes, the gracefulness of the dancers. I think I may have spent more time watching her than the ballet itself. We have been coming back ever since. Our most recent ballet was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She said she enjoyed it more than a double chocolate ice cream cone - that is high praise from a 5 year old and the reason why we make it a financial priority in our lives to bring the arts to our little girl's life. Thank you to all the dedicated artists of The National Ballet of Canada who have the difficult task of bringing the beautiful art that is ballet to life."

- Cristine Ramos, Audience Member, Less than 5 years 

"I believe it was 1964 when I had a new German classmate. Her name was Lolla and her father, Jürgen Rose, had come to Canada to design the sets for the National Ballet production of The Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Center. Lolla was an only child, I was the oldest of five (and the only girl). Although I loved the ballet from books and TV, I never dreamed I would actually see a live performance. Lolla and her family celebrated a traditional German Christmas on the 24th of December. To celebrate the Canadian Christmas, Lolla was allowed to bring one friend to see The Nutcracker on December 26th. I was the lucky friend. I will never forget that beautiful performance! To add to this wonderful day, Lolla's father took us on stage to see the sets up close and then he made my Christmas even more magical. I met the dancers! They were as kind to a star struck young girl as they were talented and beautiful. I have never had the opportunity to return and unfortunately we moved the following spring. I will never forget that special day. Each year I watch the production on TV and I become that young girl again. You people in the world of dance create such beauty and I know in my heart that many young girls get to see magic when you perform. Thank you!"

- Mrs. Sheree Fordyce, Audience Member, 40+ years 

 

Books 

Ballet stories 
By: Joan Lawson. London: Ward Lock, 1978.
Fourteen of the most popular ballets throughout the world are here told as stories for children from the age of eight upwards. Brief historical notes give details of the music, choreography and performance of each ballet, and describe the origins of the tale on which it is based.

The Nutcracker 
By: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Retold by Veronica Tennant. Illustrated by Toller Cranston. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 1985.

The Nutcracker 
By Karen Kain, Illustrated by Rajka Kupesic. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2005.

Nutcracker nation: how an Old World ballet became a Christmas tradition in the New World 
By: Jennifer Fisher. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet in the world, adopted and adapted by hundreds by hundreds of communities across the United States and Canada every Christmas season. In this entertainingly informative book, Jennifer Fisher offers new insights into the Nutcracker phenomenon, examining it as a dance scholar and critic, a former participant, an observer of popular culture, and an interviewer of those who dance, present, and watch the beloved ballet.

The story of a Nutcracker 
By: E.T.A. Hoffman. New York: K & L Associates, 1982.

Articles 

Sugar Plum dreams and the curse of Marie.”
By: Michael Crabb. The Toronto Star, December 2, 2011.

Videos 

The Nutcracker 
By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC television production, 1958.
The National Ballet of Canada performs Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The story tells of a little girl named Clara, who receives a nutcracker, as a Christmas present. The nutcracker turns into a prince and invites Clara to go with him to the Kingdom of Sweets where she is entertained by a series of different dances. Featuring Betty Pope as Clara, David Adams as The Nutcracker Prince and Lois Smith as Snow Queen.

More 

The Nutcracker Activity Book 
Download The Nutcracker Activity Book to get colouring pages and to learn more about the story.

The National Ballet's Nutcracker by the Numbers 

The Nutcracker Colouring Page 

Sugar Plum Recipe