When George Balanchine chose The Nutcracker as New York City Ballet’s first full-length ballet, it was a decision that surprised many. After all, by the 1950s, the young City Ballet had already made a name for itself with abstract, neo-classical works, and not only was The Nutcracker as Old World as you could get, but audiences had never really warmed to it. Since its premiere in 1892, it had been performed only sporadically, very much a poor relation in classical ballet. But Balanchine thought contemporary audiences would respond warmly to the charm of the story and the beauty of the score, as he had when he danced in the original version as a young student in St. Petersburg.
Balanchine’s hunch paid off. His Nutcracker premiered on February 2, 1954, and quickly became New York City Ballet’s biggest box office success. Its popularity prompted other ballet companies to present their own Nutcrackers, and the ballet and music are now staples of the holiday season.
Tchaikovsky composed that glorious music in 1891—the third and last of his great ballet trilogy following Swan Lake (1872) and The Sleeping Beauty (1890). The story was taken from E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a dark, complicated tale that was simplified for the ballet. Balanchine’s affinity for this material is clear: The Nutcracker is a lively and warm-hearted creation that appeals to adults and children alike, never losing its magic.
Marcia Dale Weary began producing full-length ballets such as The Nutcracker in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1991, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet became the only pre-professional company in the country licensed to perform George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.®
For children the never-ending charm of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® is in the special pleasure of seeing children, not unlike themselves, on stage. Then there is the Battle of the Mice and the lively dances—Spanish, Chinese, Arabian—of the last act. The story makes no demands on anyone. The music tinkles in the memory like a lost music box and the dancers swirling through the snow are enchanting for young and old alike. Pure magic!