When we think about The Nutcracker today, we see a memorable story about a girl (Marie) receiving a magical gift at a Christmas party from her mysterious Uncle Dosselmeyer. The gift is a nutcracker. Later that night, the nutcracker ends up turning into a Prince after defeating the Mouse King and saves Marie. Then, he takes Marie to a land called The Kingdom of Sweets where she is greeted by the Sugarplum fairy. This story is one of the most recognized ballets across the globe. However, what we do not think about is the way this ballet was created and how no one believed in the story as a great ballet.
Following the success of The Sleeping Beauty, Ivan Alexandrovitch Vsevolojsky, the director of the Imperial Theaters, wanted to make another ballet with choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Pete Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. Vsevolojsky suggested a story based on a book called Nussknacher und Mausekonig (The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice) by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman. Hoffman’s story was first published in 1816. It was a part of a collection of children’s fairy tales titled Kindermarchen. This story, however, had a dark twist to the end of it that none of them liked.
Because of this, Vsevolojsky decided to pick a nicer version of the story. He found a book that was based on Hoffman’s book. It was written by Alexandre Dumas and it was called L’Historie d’un Casse Noisette (The Story of a Hazelnutcracker). Both Petipa and Tchaikovsky still did not like the story and refused to work on the project. Petipa did not think the story was right for ballet dancing. He did not feel that Marie, the main character, was a strong enough character to dance. He did try to write a scenario for the ballet, but he could not think of anything past the scene of what we know of as the kingdom of snow.
After Petipa gave up, Vsevolojsky begged and persisted with Petipa to try again. He convinced Petipa and this time he created a new character called the Sugarplum fairy. This character was not in either of the original stories. She was to be the main character, rather than Marie, and she would be the ruler of the Kingdom of Sweets. Petipa felt that this character could dance the big scenes better than the character Marie. Dosselmeyer and Marie then became only minor roles. Now that he had Petipa, Vsevolojsky tried to talk to Tchaikovsky again. Also, this time Vsevolojsky had a one-act opera to work with Tchaikovsky as well.
This convinced Tchaikovsky to participate, because he loved the opera. Tchaikovsky completed the first draft of the score by July 7, 1891. The orchestration did not begin until January 1892 and took three months to finish. Tchaikovsky did not like the music after it was done and said that his heart was not into it at all. However, later he said that it grew on him and it was good. Petipa started his choreographing in August of 1892. He became sick and could not go on, therefore; his assistant Lev Ivano, took over. When it was finished, it was first performed on December 17, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theater.
The Imperial Russian Ballet was the first to perform this ballet. The principal dancers were Antonietta dell’Era and Pavel Gerdt. A condensed one-act version was the first to be performed in the United States. It was done on October 17, 1940 in New York by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Alexandra Reforova staged this part of the ballet with principal dancers Alicia Markova and Andre Eglevsky. It seemed like no one believe in this ballet ever becoming a success. However, now when you say the word Nutcracker people associated it with the wonderful Christmas ballet. It is a ballet that many people, young and old, will cherish it forever.