100 Dance Treasures

The Nutcracker Menu

Scene from The Nutcracker, Photo by Fred'k Melton Pictured: Michael Arshansky, Paul Nickel, and Alberta Grant in a c.1954 photograph of act 1, scene 1 of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1954). Balanchine's New York City Ballet production is perhaps the best-known and most artistically acclaimed of this beloved ballet. (Photograph by Frederick Melton; from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust.)

First produced in 1892 at Saint Petersburg's Imperial Ballet with choreography by Lev Ivanov after a choreographic plan by Marius Petipa, The Nutcracker has become a beloved American classic. The ballet was introduced to American audiences in a truncated version by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and in an idiosyncratic one by Willam Christensen for the San Francisco Ballet. However, it was George Balanchine's 1954 production by the New York City Ballet, which featured children from the School of American Ballet and a tree that grew magically up to the flies that transformed the ballet into popular Christmas entertainment. Scores of Nutcrackers are produced each year. Most are community events, presented by local organizations with local children for an audience of parents and friends. For established companies the ballet is a moneymaker that can generate more than fifty percent of annual earned income. In recent decades some choreographers have reworked the story so as to create more satisfying, adult entertainment. The best of these efforts is Mark Morris' The Hard Nut (1991), a hilarious, gender-bending version set in the 1950s.

Learn more in The Nutcracker, an essay by Jennifer Fisher.

The Sugar Plum Fairy variation is a choreographic centerpiece of The Nutcracker. Performed by Alexandra Danilova in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version after
Lev Ivanov, filmed at Jacob's Pillow in 1952.