The Nutcracker ballet is a beautiful holiday tradition featuring snowflakes and soldiers, party guests and a prince, and, of course, the Sugar Plum Fairy. If the delightful picture in my Facebook feed are any indication, many of you have attended or are planning to attend a performance of The Nutcracker featuring beautiful costumes, talented performers and the exquisite music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
It is a classic holiday fairy tale ballet in two acts. As a family’s Christmas Eve party ends, a dream takes the young daughter Clara to a magical world where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen, dancing snowflakes and many other enchanting characters.
My daughter and I love seeing The Nutcracker each year – it is one of my most favorite mother-daughter traditions that we have together. We are planning to attend Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet (CFB) marks its 25th anniversary production of The Nutcracker at the McAninch Arts Center in the Western suburbs of Chicago. (If you’re in town and want to join us, please let me know! The more the merrier!) To give my daughter a sense of the history behind this gorgeous holiday tradition, I looked up some fun facts and trivia about The Nutcracker ballet.
* The Nutcracker ballet premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 18, 1892.
* It took some time for the production to make its way to the United States. It wasn’t until 1944 that The Nutcracker‘s full length production first appeared in the U.S. The San Francisco Opera Ballet performed it.
* The Nutcracker has been the most widely performed ballet in the world.
* Tchaikovsky was not a huge fan of the score he composed. He felt the music was “infinitely poorer” than what he had composed for Sleeping Beauty two years earlier.
* The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The ballet version, however, is lighter and not nearly as dark and scary as Hoffmann’s story. Hoffmann was a noted German author.
* The section of the ballet in which dancers perform for Clara and the Prince is called the divertissement. It includes the Spanish dance (chocolate), the Arabian dance (coffee), the Chinese dance (tea), the Russian dance (trepak), reed pipes, clowns, and the beautiful “Waltz of the Flowers.”
* The instrument feature in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the celesta, a delicate bell-like instrument that was entirely new at the time. Tchaikovsky heard it in Paris when he was traveling while working on the score. He asked his publisher to acquire the instrument for the ballet, and asked him to keep it secret so that other composers did not use it before the first performance of the Nutcracker. You can read more about Tchaikovsky and the celesta on the Royal Opera House website here.
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