Virtual Museum

The Nutcracker

About the Ballet

Every year during the Christmas season, thousands of children and their parents visit the theatre to see The Nutcracker, probably the all-time favourite in holiday entertainment. The Nutcracker premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18, 1892. The choreography was by Lev Ivanov after Marius Petipa, who fell ill before beginning to choreograph and passed on his choreographic plan to Ivanov, and the score was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Italian ballerina Antoinetta Dell’Era and Russian premiere danseur Pavel Gerdt performed the lead roles of The Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Coqueluche. The ballet was performed as a double premiere with Tchaikovsky’s final opera Iolanta. Tchaikovsky was initially reluctant to write the score for The Nutcracker finding the libretto based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s children’s tale, The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice, lacking in fantasy. Nevertheless, this production would ultimately become Tchaikovsky’s most popular work.

Following Marius Petipa’s death in 1910, Russian choreographers began staging new interpretations of The Nutcracker. Aleksandr Gorsky’s version for Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre was first performed in 1919, Fedor Lopukhov staged The Nutcracker in the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad in 1929, and Vasily Vainonen developed his version for the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater in Leningrad in 1934. These choreographers aimed to improve perceived flaws in the original arrangement of the ballet and reinterpret E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story. In some older productions, choreographers transformed the individual roles of Clara and The Sugar Plum Fairy into a shared role performed by an adult ballerina. However, many principal dancers in this era were actually very young and performed these lead roles at the age of 15 or 16.

The first production of The Nutcracker presented outside of Russia premiered on January 30, 1934 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, England. Staged by Nicholas Sergeyev for Dame Ninette de Valois’ Vic-Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), the lead roles were performed by Alicia Markova and Stanley Judson. Sergeyev, formerly a stage director for the Maryinsky Theatre, was a living link to the original Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa production and brought his expertise to create a showpiece ballet for Alicia Markova’s early performances with the fledgling company.

Today, The Nutcracker’s delightful plot and timeless music have made it a perennial favourite and most companies hold a version in their repertoire.

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Ballet Notes

Get more insight into the production - Ballet Notes are detailed guides to the company's dynamic repertoire. Read the synopsis and articles and view more photos in The Nutcracker Ballet Notes.

Read the 2013 Ballet Notes

Read the 2014 Ballet Notes

Production Chronology 

Casse-Noisette, Act II
Premiere date: January 28, 1952
Choreography: Lev Ivanov
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design: Kay Ambrose

The Nutcracker 
Premiere date: November 19, 1955
Choreography: Celia Franca, after Lev Ivanov
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design: Kay Ambrose

The Nutcracker 
Premiere date: December 26, 1964
Choreography: Celia Franca, after Marius Petipa
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design: J├╝rgen Rose
Lighting Design: Wallace Russell (1964), Michael J. Whitfield (1986)

The Nutcracker 
Premiere date: December 21, 1995
Choreography: James Kudelka
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Costume and Set Design: Santo Loquasto
Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton

The Nutcracker is made possible by generous financial support from production underwriters Sandra & Jim Pitblado, Lawrence & Ann Heisey and an anonymous friend of the National Ballet.

Top image credit: The National Ballet of Canada tutus on display. Photo by Setareh Sarmadi.