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What Christmas would it be without the magic of The Nutcracker?

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

It would seem a rhetorical question, but for fans and ballet dancers around the world it is a truly indispensable tradition, since The Nutcracker has always been the symbol of the Christmas atmosphere. Ballet in two acts, signed by the choreographic genius of Marius Petipa and his successor Lev Ivanov, with music by Tchaikovsky (Op. 71), The Nutcracker was commissioned by the Director of the Imperial Russian Theaters, Ivan Aleksandrovich Vsevolozhsky and made his debut at the Mariinsky Theater of St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892 in the version of Lev Ivanov who had taken the place of Petipa because the latter had fallen ill.

The libretto is taken from the story The Nutcracker and the king of mice by ETA Hoffmann (1816), in the simplified and simplified version of Alexandre Dumas, father History of a nutcracker (1845). The original production, directed entirely by Riccardo Drigo, was not a success. Among the interpreters of this first version of the ballet Antonietta Dell’Era, Pavel Gerdt, Olga Preobrajenska and Nicolaj Legat. The role of Clara was played by a girl from the Mariinsky Theater's dance school. What had not liked the Russian criticism was the implausible plot and the setting considered by some unconvincing. Alexandre Benois described the choreography of the battle scene between the Nutcracker troops and the "confusing" King of the Mice army and in some ways "amateur": One can not understand anything. Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards - quite amateurish.

Even the dancers and the same booklet were criticized; nevertheless, after the first staging of Ivanov, there were several other versions of the ballet, including those revisited by Gorsky in 1917 and by Lopukhov in 1929. An abridged version of the ballet was performed outside of Russia in Budapest by the Royal Opera House in 1927, with the choreography of Ede Brada. In 1934 at the Mariinsky Theater the version of Vasilij Vajnonen was staged, which made Clara's role coincide with that of the Fata Confetto, and in June of that year there was the debut of the full version of the ballet, according to the choreography by Ivanov, at Sadler's Wells in London. In Italy, The Nutcracker was performed for the first time in 1938, at La Scala in Milan, with the choreography of Margherita Froman. The following years saw several different versions of the ballet, including those of Boris Romanov, Frederick Ashton and Nicholas Beriozoff. Another reduced version of the ballet performed by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was staged in New York in 1940, according to Petipa's original choreography. The first complete representation of ballet in the United States dates back to December 24, 1944, with the San Francisco Ballet, under the artistic direction of Willam Christensen, with Gisella Caccialanza in the role of the Fairy Confetto and Jocelyn Vollmar in that of the Snow Queen. After the great success of this production, the most famous revisitation was that of George Balanchine, who in 1954, although following the original plot, decided to divide the ballet into two parts: reality and dream. This version was then represented by the New York City Ballet.

Starting in 1960, the tradition of staging The Nutcracker at Christmas time spread throughout the rest of the United States. It can therefore be said that it was precisely America that consecrated the worldwide success of The Nutcracker and made it in some sense "immortal". As stated by Jennifer Fischer in her essay The Nutcracker published in Dance Heritage Coalition in 2012: The Nutcracker would have remained one of the lesser-known ballets had it not been for her virtual immigration to the United States. Even today, the major American ballet companies record about 40% of their annual revenue from sold tickets for the Nutcracker shows. What was most appreciated by the American public and critics was the joy of childhood, the value of true friendship, the triumph of a loser and the desire for utopian kingdoms in which everyone agrees and speaks the same language (Fischer). And it is precisely from these values ​​that the story of the worldwide success of ballet began, still today one of the most represented titles in theaters all over the world.

The charm of this timeless fairy tale, however, has extended far beyond the tersicoreo environment, capturing the interest also of film directors; just remember the famous film Fantasia produced by Walt Disney in 1940 in which fairies, mushrooms, fish, flowers, thistles and orchids dance to the rhythm of Tchaikovsky's score. In 1993 the director Emile Ardolino produced a film version of the ballet based on Balanchine's choreography entitled George Balanchine: The Nutcracker and in 2001 the animated film directed by Owen Hurley Barbie in the Nutcracker was presented in theaters. In 1983 there was a television adaptation for an ice skating show entitled The Nutcracker: fantasy on ice.

In 1990 an animated feature film was released entitled: The fable of the prince-squashed direct by Paul Schibli and there was also a 3D adaptation of the ballet in a film version signed by the Russian director Andrej Končalovskij: The Nutcracker in 3D. On November 2, 2018, Disney distributed in theaters a free film adaptation of the novel: The Nutcracker and the four kingdoms, in which parts of the music of the original ballet were also taken, with choreographies by Liam Scarlett and the participation of the famous étoiles Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin, supported by a group of 18 dancers from different countries. It can therefore be said that The Nutcracker is a timeless success destined to last for centuries and enchant audiences around the world with its magical atmosphere.

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