Nutcracker:An Introduction

I would like to tell about the history of the great music which athletes often use in a figure skating. It’s important to know the music you want to perform on the ice. Well, the history of the Nutcracker,P.I.Tchaikovsky.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Already the author of two of the greatest full-length ballet scores in the repertoire-Swan Lake and Slepping Beauty- Tchaikovsky, in 1890,was prompted to ponder a third dance work. The auspices were good:Sleeping Beauty had been a great success and the same team of legendary choreographer Petipa and the impresario Vsevolozhsky were now to produce another ballet based on a tale by the German Romantic fantasy writer E.T.Hoffman.

Yet if ever Tchaikovsky were to tackle an ill-starred work it would be Nutcracker partly because the scenario did not please him; the composer evinced it as trite, static and with little scope for narrative development. Indeed one might easily assert that the story does not lend itself to adaptation for ballet, and that the collaborators came to realise this only after they agreed to produce it.

 The Nutcracker ballet
Marius Petipa

Maybe one might add that Hoffman, the author of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,never intended the story for children in the first place, and what today appears as a fairy tale of a young girl’s magical dream began as a morbid parable with dark undertones.

Yet by the start of 1891 Tchaikovsky had agreed, and he kept to his word, although with one proviso, that the premiere should be postponed until the 1892-92 season. Assiduously throughout the busy year of 1891 he pounded out the music, writing both in Moscow and St.Petersburg, on vacation in Rouen, and even whilst enduring a stormy Atlantic crossing to the New World, and further on his travels to America.

The Nutcracker ballet

Nutcracker was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre on December 18,1892,with its composer then having less than a year to live. It was not a success, maybe due in some part to the fact that Petipa had fallen ill during rehearsals, with the choreography then having to be taken up by his assistant Ivanov; although one might say that perhaps the real reason for Nutcracker’s failure over a hundred years ago is that it was a work before its time.

The Nutcracker ballet
Evelyn Hart

For true recognition it would have to wait for the 20th century and key productions by the Bolshoi, the Kirov, the New York City and the Royal Ballets. Maybe the ballerina Evelyn Hart essentialises Nutcracker’s ultimate mysterious allure in a simple but cogent way:”You wake up and you’re given a toy, you dream, you have this wonderful dream and then you wake up again: just what have you seen?”

The Nutcracker by Caroline Zhang

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