The countless intricate details in The Nutcracker all come together seamlessly every December to create West Michigan’s favorite family holiday tradition seen by over 50,000 people since its premiere in 2014.
• In each performance, there are 68 Grand Rapids Ballet School students and approximately 40 company dancers—most of whom are doing multiple roles. In fact, any company dancer can do up to five separate roles per show!
• There are 149 original costumes with 58 of those being tutus which require over 5,000 yards of tulle.
• There are three Sugar Plum Fairy tutus, five Marzipan Castle scene tutus, 19 snow scene tutus, 15 Waltz of the Flower tutus, two Spanish tutus, 10 harlequin tutus, and two Dream Clara tutus.
• It takes seven full-size semi-trucks to move the entire production to DeVos Performance Hall.
• It takes seven days to assemble the Broadway-quality sets designed by Tony Award winner Eugene Lee based on the illustrations of The Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg.
• There are 15 toy soldiers and seven mice in each fight scene including one infamous Mouse King.
• There are 12 individual snowflakes in the snow scene and 12 pink flowers twirl with one Sugar Plum Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers.
• In each performance, 30+ crowns and tiaras are worn: 12 snow scene crowns, 1 Dream Clara tiara, two Sugar Plum Fairy tiaras, and three Marzipan Castle crowns. Talk about glamour!
• Clara’s Nutcracker Party is attended by 400 happy children, parents, and grandparents.
• The company and school both spend at least two months rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s gorgeous choreography including two dress rehearsals.
All of this adds up to one spectacular show that you and your family won’t want to miss. Tickets are available at 616.454.4771 x10 or on our website.
Often daunting, always exciting, summer intensives are of the utmost importance for the training of a pre-professional dancer. Most are between three and five weeks, jam-packed with learning, dancing, and making new memories. All professional dancers started as students much like you, attending summer intensives and feeling excited and nervous. As a student, I found that the summer intensives I attended ended up being some of the most transformative years of my training toward become a professional dancer. Whether it be the stellar training, diverse repertoire, adventurous weekend activities, or friendships I made, I never regretted attending a single one of them. Regardless if you’re attending a shorter three-week program or even a longer seven-week program, here are some tips to help you survive and thrive during your summer intensive.
Tip #1: BE NICE
• As in life, this applies to everyone at your intensive. These are your peers, contemporaries, and teachers. You will run into them again, so always have a smile and a kind word.
Tip #2: BE PREPARED TO GIVE 100%
• Make sure you’re in shape before you arrive; do not take time off leading up to an intensive. Up to two weeks before you arrive, you should be taking class every day to ensure your body is in good condition.
• Pack the right things in your suitcase. Of course, start with ballet clothes that follow your school’s dress code, but be prepared to spend time outside the studio exploring your host city. For example, Grand Rapids gets quite warm in the summer but it occasionally has a cooler rainy day (this is Michigan, after all—if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour). So, you should pack summer clothes and a rain jacket. And don’t forget things like a sewing kit.
• Stay positive. Remember teachers only give corrections because they are trying to help you, so don’t allow yourself to get into the mindset one teacher doesn’t like you. And please don’t fret about your level placement; you are placed in the level in which the school faculty knows you will succeed.
• Work hard and your effort to improve will be noticed. Give everything your best effort; there’s no time like the present to work hard.
Photo: Jade Butler
Tip #3: BE CURIOUS
• The need for a dancer who is able to do both classical ballet and contemporary dance is growing. so it’s important to start as a student—be open to trying new styles.
• You may be scheduled to take classes you don’t normally take at your home studio like character, hip-hop, or Pilates. These classes are all great ways to grow and learn as a dancer and they were included in the curriculum to help you. And you might just end up loving it.
• Remember, your teachers might teach a step slightly differently than they do at your home studio. That’s OK. Different styles of ballet steps (Vaganova, Cecchetti, Balanchine) have differences and it does not mean they are teaching the step incorrectly. As a professional dancer, the choreographer wants you to do their step their way—not your way, mom’s way, or your home studio’s way. Again, you will learn something new, which is always a good thing. Trust them.
“One of the best things about a summer intensive is all of the new information you receive. Whether it’s learning from new students attending an intensive at your home studio, or attending a summer program at a different school, my advice is to be as open as possible. Hold on to everything you know about ballet lightly, and see what matches up based on what you see and what you are taught. If something doesn’t ring true, you can discard it when you go back to your normal training in September, but challenge yourself to try new things for the entire time you are in the new environment.” —Steven Houser, Grand Rapids Ballet Company Dancer and Ballet Master
Photo: Jade Butler
Tip #4: DRESS TO IMPRESS
• I think you know what I am going to say here: Follow the dress code that is a given to you to the letter. Remember, you’re asked to wear a black leotard or pink tights so your teacher can see your lines well. You’re only at this school for a short number of weeks, so you want to put your best foot forward figuratively and literally.
• Show up ready to shine with your hair done nicely and pulled away from your face with no holes or runs in your tights (remember that sewing kit I referenced earlier?)
• Dancing 4-6 hours a day means a lot of sweat, so wear deodorant and shower regularly. This is common sense.
Tip #5: FUEL YOURSELF
• Make sure you’re eating enough to sustain how much dancing you’re doing every day. When you’re craving a snack, have one, but make sure it’s nutritious, sustainable, and minimally processed. And it goes without saying: water, water, and more water.
• Sleep six to eight hours per night (maybe even more, if possible). There’s nothing like a full night’s sleep to prepare you for a full day of dancing and working hard.
Photo: Jade Butler
Tip #6: HAVE FUN
• Enjoy yourself! Go on those weekend activities; I promise you will make memories that will last a lifetime.
• Connect with your new friends…Instagram, email, Facebook, phone numbers, Snapchat. Keep in contact and continue to grow your dance network. You may find yourself next to many of them at the barre in the future and a friendly face is always a nice thing to see.
“During a summer intensive you spend the entire day dancing which can take a toll on your body. I try to spend time every morning before class rolling out and time after the day is over to stretch. I’ve found that this is the best way to prep my body for the long day ahead and also relax after a whole day of dancing.” —Sophia Brodin, Grand Rapids Ballet Summer Intensive student
When it comes to their kids, parents want them to have the best. Exposure to things like sports and the arts help them to become more well rounded young men and women. Have you thought about ballet? Kids are into all sorts of after-school sports and other activities like piano and violin lessons. Dancing is a great medium for both girls and boys. And, they can start young. Classical ballet may have been pushed aside in favor of tap dancing, hip-hop, jazz and other forms. But, did you know that beginning with ballet will help with these other types of dancing? That is just one little secret we’re letting you in on. Ballet dancers make it look effortless as they move across the stage. From the lifts to the toe points, many wonder how they can do it. Your kids can also be a part of this through the practice of classical ballet. Ballet classes can start for young kids around ages four and five. For them, being in front of all those mirrors and the bar is something new and exciting. Some of the benefits of ballet for young kids are:
They learn to follow instructions
They gain a sense of discipline through learning new positions
They learn co-ordination, balance and how to control their bodies in motion
They are active and getting daily exercise
They become comfortable performing before groups
When a child is young, learning new things is easier for them. They can adapt and learn more quickly than when they are older. So, once a child begins in ballet at an early age, they are not only learning a valued art form but also getting trained for the life that is ahead of them. This is just the beginning, though. As a child continues to pursue ballet, youíll see more benefits emerging – especially when they become adolescents and into the teenage years.
They develop long and strong muscles from the practice of ballet
They gain a sense of self-confidence and pride in their bodies and what they can accomplish
They learn how to work to get what they want out of their performance
The skills learned in ballet are useful for other forms of dancing like tap or jazz if they want to take that up later
They learn about proper nutrition to keep their bodies in shape so they can dance
Maybe you’ve never considered ballet as an after-school activity before. Now that you are aware of some of the wonderful benefits of this form of dance you have another option for your children. Who knows, one day they could be dancing across stages all over the country and beyond.
A partnership with the Arts Council through the years with the the school’s performance of the Nutcracker Ballet and the “tea party with Clara” event every December prompted the expansion. Their was just a great interest in the December event that the school decided to bring their faculty to Holland. The classes will give kids ages 3-9 years old a chance to learn ballet. The school will also hold classes for those with Down Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease as well.
Attila Mosolygo is the Director and Principal of Grand Rapids School of Ballet (GRBS) and says he believes strongly that dance plays an important role in the healthy development of your child’s focus, coordination, discipline, and etiquette. Mosolygo starting training in Hungary and by the time he was 12-year-old knew he would be dancing. After moving to America he studied at the Joffrey Ballet and an audition with the Grand Rapids Ballet led him to Michigan.
Mosolygo says the classes for Down Syndrome students first started in Grand Rapids and the results were fantastic.
“To be able to offer a dance class to every child you know regardless of their ability, age or body type is fantastic and to be able to enrich lives of young kids.The first thing I thought was if we’re going to try to bring this program out to the Holland community, I want to make sure people are aware of it. We connected with the director of The Commons of Evergreen. It’s been long proven that dance is one of the best things you can do when you have Parkinson’s. The class is very physical and active. but we can adapt the class to everyone’s need.”
In an effort to make sure they can fill the classes, you are asked to register as soon as possible so that the school has an idea of how nany students they will be training.
Classes start on Monday September 11 and will run until Monday, May 7, 2018. Ballet classes are available for children 3-4 and 7-9 and children with Down syndrome age 5 and up, and do not require prior dance or ballet experience.
Day/time: Monday 4:15-5pm
Cost: $380 per school year, $205 per semester ($410 total), $49 per month ($441 total)
Dress code Girls: soft pink leotard, soft pink tights, and pink ballet shoes. Boys: black ballet tights or black leggings, black ballet shoes, plain white fitted t-shirt.
Day/time: Monday 5-6pm
Cost: $435 per school year, $235 per semester ($470 total), $58 per month ($504 total)
Dress code: Girls: lavender leotard, soft pink tights, and pink ballet shoes. Boys: black ballet tights or black leggings, black ballet shoes, plain white fitted t-shirt.
Explorer Dance for Down Syndrome
Ages: 5 and up
Day/time: Wednesday 5:30-6:15pm
Cost: $162 per school year, $90 per semester ($180 total), $22 per month ($198 total)
Moving with Parkinson’s
Ages: 50 and up and their care partners of any age
Day/time: Monday 11:15am-12pm
Cost: $3 for Evergreen Commons members / $5 for non-members.
Dress code: loose, comfortable clothing
Holland Area Arts Council is located at in downtown at 150 East 8th Street, Holland, Michigan 49423. Evergreen Commons is located at 480 State Street, Holland, Michigan 49423. For more information on all the GRBS classes offered in Holland, including schedules, costs, directions, enrollment, and financial aid, please visit grballet.com/holland, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 616.454.4771 x17.
The GRBS remains committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under the leadership of Patricia Barker as artistic director, Glenn Del Vecchio as executive director, and Attila Mosolygo as school director. A proud recipient of the ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization, Michigan’s only professional ballet company has a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support. In addition,
Grand Rapids Ballet School provides over 200 students with the highest quality dance instruction in a nurturing and encouraging environment and the opportunity to perform in productions by Grand Rapids Junior Company. Keep up with the ballet on Twitter,Facebook,Instagram, and YouTube.
Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company’s Mini-Tales & Bolero is fun for the whole family!
The Junior Company of Grand Rapids Ballet School (JRCO) is excited to present Mini-Tales & Bolero May 19-21 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Mini-Tales & Bolero is a mixed bill that includes family fairy tale favorites Goldilocks & The Three Bears, Jack & The Beanstalk, and Thumbelina, as well as the JRCO premiere of Bolero—a ballet set to a one-movement orchestral piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, the piece, which premiered in 1928, is Ravel’s most famous musical composition.
“I’m very excited for this performance,” said JRCO Director, Attila Mosolygo. “The kids have worked so hard and their dedication to their craft is wonderful to see. Plus, it’s going to be a lot of fun, too!”
Attila Mosolygo is creating the sets himself for Mini-Tales & Bolero. Here is Thumbelina’s world coming to life!
Click here to watch Attila and the dancers on FOX 17.
All performances take place at Peter Martin Wege Theatre (341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503):
JRCO provides students of the Grand Rapids Ballet School, between the ages of 10 and 19, with greater performance opportunities. Members enjoy the thrill of performing in their own productions and alongside the professional dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet.
Tickets are available on Ticketmaster, grballet.com, 616.454.4771 x 10, or at our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
Want to stay fit as a fiddle? Attila Mosolygo is already a pro in the ballet world, as well as the assistant artistic director and principal of Grand Rapids Ballet School. But did you know he’s also got some mad skills in the gym? Dancing already burns tons of calories and the sporadic movements call upon many muscles. Many people envy the physique but don’t actually realize they can get a similar shape. Check out how he trains for performances and implement some of his moves into your regimen.
Exercise 1: Basic Pushup
Keep you back flat, legs straight, and hands placed outside of your shoulders. 3 SETS OF 20 REPS 30-60 SECONDS REST
Exercise 2: Military Pushup
Push up with the hands placed directly under shoulders, upper arms remain next to the body in the down position. 3 SETS OF 20 REPS 30-60 SECONDS REST
Exercise 3: Crunches
On a flat back with legs at 90 degrees and toes pointing up, keep your arms vertical with your fingers above your shoulders. This is a basic crunch with fingers extending up to the same level as the toes. 3 SETS OF 30 REPS 30-60 SECONDS REST
Exercise 4: Starfish
In a basic pushup position create a wide X shape without twisting or tipping the torso. Raise one arm, hold it for 5-10 seconds, place it down, then do the same with opposite arm. And the with legs (one at a time) 2 SETS OF 20 REPS
“Follow exercise #4 with a moderate speed run for 1 mile and then repeat exercises 1-4”
And don’t forget we also offer adult ballet classes that will help you stay fit, increase flexibility, and raise your spirits. Find out more here.
All in the Family: ‘Nutcracker’ includes sibling youth dancers from Kentwood
By K.D. Norris (email@example.com)
When the annual run of the Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” hits the stage Friday, Dec. 9, it will include staring rolls by the company’s professional dancers and, as always, often a stage full of youth dancers.
Again this year, Kentwood sisters Grace and Micah Jones will be among those lending their talents to the production a part of the ballet’s youth dance program — one sister because she sees dance as a possible future career and the other because it is just “so much fun.”
The classic family holiday tradition returns to DeVos Performance Hall for two weekends — Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 16-18 — with four evening shows and four matinees. Live orchestra music is provided by Grand Rapids Symphony.
Grace, a 16-year-old junior at Grand River Preparatory High School, has been dancing at Grand Rapids Ballet for 11 years and has been a member of the Junior Company since its inception. This year will be her 8th Nutcracker appearance.
“I started dancing when I was 2, my parents saw that I loved movement and loved dancing,” Grace said last week, prior to a rehearsal. “My parents saw I needed something to get my energy out so they said ‘Let’s put her into dance.’ I really didn’t get into ballet right away. I was into jazz and tap and hip hop, but at about 5, I went into ballet because I loved the movement.”
She also loved The Nutcracker, thanks to her father, Ronald.
“I remember going to The Nutcracker every year, when I was younger,” she said. “My dad would take me every year, starting at 4 and then every year until I was 8, when I got to be in it for the first time.”
Seven productions later, she is still excited about the annual holiday production.
“I have always loved being in front of the audience,” Grace said. “I love sharing, I love exposing the audience to something new. For me, when I first watched it, it was so beautiful, to watch those beautiful dancers, the beautiful colors and costumes and shapes they make on the stage. I said ‘Wow. I want to do that.’ … Now I want to give some other girl that feeling, the feeling I felt when I was younger.”
According to her mother, Sandra, Grace hopes to dance in college while pursuing professional opportunities. But she sees dance as a means to other career paths as well.
“I love teaching, maybe teaching dance, “ Grace said. “I would love to show others the joy I found in dance.”
One of the people she has shown the love of dance to is her sister.
Micah, age 13 and a 7th grader at Cross Creek Charter Academy, says music is her first love — she has been playing the piano for 8 years, and her mother says she has talked about assisting with her college expenses by playing piano for ballet companies.
But Micah has been with working with the Grand Rapids Ballet youth program for four years and will be in the Nutcracker for the third year.
“I saw saw my sister, and other people, in dance and it looked so fun,” Micah said, explaining why she wanted to dance. “It is so free, you get to move how you want to move.”
She also said she receives plenty of advice and encouragement from her older sister.
“Since she is such a good dancer, she really helps me when I need help, with technique or how I am supposed to move,” Micah said.
And as far as her first time in front of the usually large crowds watching the Nutcracker, any advice from her older sister?
“She told me not to think of the crowd, just remember your choreography, remember what you are there to do.”
While the two sisters will be dancing different rolls this season, the thing they have in common is an affinity for the famous battle scene. “It is a giant battle scene,” Grace points out, while Micah simply says the scene is “so much fun.”
Anybody who has seen the production knows what they are talking about; those how haven’t have two weekends worth of opportunity.
For more information, call 616-454-4771 or visit grballet.com
Why is it that even non-ballet audiences are familiar with the Nutcracker?
By Charles Flachs
How has The Nutcracker become an American tradition and why do so many companies and artists in different dance genres perform it regularly? Perhaps some historical context will be helpful in explaining the universal appeal of this holiday dance extravaganza.
Today almost every major ballet company in the US and Canada, as well as companies throughout Europe, perform this ballet. There are hip-hop adaptions and even Duke Ellington, the great jazz musician, composed his own version of the music. The Nutcracker, a classical ballet created over a century ago, is a successful tradition, artistically and financially.
Classical ballet has requirements to be successful: superb music, spirited dancing, inspired choreography and a continuation of the Romantic Eras’ blended themes of realism followed by fantasy. In all these instances, The Nutcracker excels. The renowned Russian ballet reviewer and critic Akim Volynsky wrote:
“…ballet masters of old sensed that the fairy tale constitutes the plot of all genuine ballet. This is why the classical dances in Giselle, Raymonda, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are associated with various themes from fairy tales. They begin with a more or less magnificent and solemn opening, followed by the obligatory realistic plot. Then suddenly the realism is abandoned, and the fantastic features of the fairy tale in their abstract choreographic designs are revealed before of eyes.” (Volysnky 1911-1925:238)
Despite competing claims for the “original” version of the Nutcracker, there are a series of historically incontrovertible facts. The Nutcracker (or “Casse–Noisette”), a Classical Ballet in two acts and three scenes, was first choreographed in December 1892 and produced in St. Petersburg, Russia by the Maryinsky Ballet. Originally the choreographer was to be the famous father of classical ballet, Marius Petipa. Petipa was a Frenchman who had quickly risen in the ranks of the theatre and developed the classical ballet genre over the span of sixty years of innovative choreography. However, as he began to work on the Nutcracker, Petipa fell ill, and it was left to his assistant, a Russian, Lev Ivanov, to complete the bulk of the work.
The story, also credited to Ivanov, is derived from the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale, The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice. As in most classical ballets, the story line does not exactly follow the written version, with liberties taken to increase the scenic spectacle and place emphasis on the dancing roles.
In short, Nutcracker is the story of Clara, a young girl whose family is entertaining friends and neighbors at a party in her parents’ home. Here we meet (depending on the production) all types of characters, including performing dolls, and Clara’s mysterious uncle Drosslemyer. Clara is given a nutcracker doll as a gift by her eccentric uncle. Her brother Fritz then attempts to steal it from her. During the ensuing chase, the doll is broken, and Drosslemyer consoles Clara as she places the doll under the tree for safekeeping. After the party, the guests leave and Clara and Fritz are sent upstairs to bed. Clara, however, cannot sleep, and creeps back down the stairs to check on her nutcracker. She falls asleep with the doll and begins to dream.
The ballet then leaves the world of realism and turns to fantasy. The small Christmas tree seen in the first act begins to magically grow skyward as large mice, one with a crown on its head, start a battle with the nutcracker that has come to life, portrayed by a dancer wearing a nutcracker mask. During the battle, the King mouse is distracted by Clara who strikes him with her ballet slipper, enabling the nutcracker to slay him. The nutcracker removes his mask, completing his transformation into a real Prince, and then escorts Clara to the land of the Snowflakes. Here, the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” is performed, concluding the first act.
The second act, set in the “Kingdom of Sweets”, is a series of divertissements viewed by Clara as if still in a dream. These dances often represent, more or less, countries and dances throughout the world. Clara is given a seat of honor where she presides over the action. The ballet ends with Clara awakening back in her home with the toy nutcracker in her arms. She and the audience are left wondering how much of the ballet was a dream and how much reality.
Ivanov had already assisted Petipa with another classical ballet, Swan Lake, where he is credited for the impeccable musicality and phrasing of the choreography in the 2nd and 4th acts.
The music for the Nutcracker was again by the same composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Perhaps Ivanov had an affinity for the music of Tchaikovsky; we know that the composer was greatly impressed with the choreography when he saw the ballet performed.
Tchaikovsky accepted the commission from the director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. It was Vsevolojsky who came up with the idea of using a streamlined version of Hoffman’s story by famed French writer Alexander Dumas in the 1844. Dumas called his version “The Story of a Hazelnut-cracker.”
While composing the music, Tchaikovsky is said to have made a bet with a friend who asked if the composer could write a melody based on the notes of the octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Grand Adage section of the “Grand Pas de Deux”. Among other things, the score of The Nutcracker is noted for its use of the celesta, a featured solo instrument in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from the second act.Tchaikovsky had doubts about his creative work and initially was not pleased with his composition. Eventually, as he worked on the score, he came to think his music had potential.
The Early Productions
In the Maryinsky production, Antonietta dell’ Era, an Italian ballerina, appeared in the leading role of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. Other roles were performed by a veritable who’s who of ballet history, with Paul Gerdt dancing the part of the Prince, Olga Preobrazhenskaya one of the clockwork dolls, and Sergei Lagat dancing the Nutcracker. Although the ballet continued to be performed in Russia after the premier, it was not an unqualified success. Critics complained of a disjointed storyline, too many children in the cast, and some, surprisingly, even disliked the score. Tchaikovsky died within a year of the staging never knowing how popular his music would become.
It was left to the Russian émigré community to promote the Nutcracker tradition. As early as 1932 a few Russian expatriates were staging partial Nutcrackers in Vancouver, Canada, and Portland, Oregon. In 1934, a version was performed at London’s Vic-Wells (later named the Royal Ballet) staged by Nicholas Sergeyev, who was the Maryinsky Theatre’s former chief regisseur.
In the United States, audiences became familiar with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s condensed Nutcracker. It had a brief party scene in the first act, moved quickly to the Snowflake Waltz (which was eventually eliminated in their presentation) and then on to the second act divertissements and “Grand Pas de Deux”. That specific choreography, for the “Pas de Deux” section of the complete ballet, was still being passed on to new generations of dancers in many regional American ballet companies as late as the 1980s, with staging by the masterful Ballet Russe dancer, Frederic Franklin.
The first full-length restaging of the ballet is often attributed to George Balanchine, but there was another company that preceded New York City Ballet’s storied version.
As one of three brothers in a dancing family, Willam Christensen first put together the second act divertissements in Portland with the help of a Russian émigré composer, Jacques Gershkovitch. Christensen knew nothing about the production but choreographed an inspired series of dances that drew raves in Portland. By the 1940s, Christensen had become the founder and director and of the San Francisco Ballet, a company originally associated with the Opera.
Looking for a full-length ballet to establish the fledgling company, Christensen chose The Nutcracker. He again drew on the Russian community, picking up details of the staging that were missing from the abbreviated version performed by the touring Ballet Russe company, a version that he had undoubtedly seen.
His brothers Lew and Harold were both dancers who performed under the direction of George Balanchine, who was working in New York before the formation of his company, the New York City Ballet.
When Balanchine, who was choreographing for the Ballet Russe Company at the time, arrived in San Francisco, Christensen invited him to his apartment to ask questions about the original staging. Balanchine encouraged him to choreograph his own steps and acquainted him with the previously unknown buffoon character, Mother Ginger, who appears in the second act. Staged in 1944, the success of this full-length production helped establish San Francisco Ballet and Willam Christensen as its director. However, the company did not do regular December performances of the ballet until the 1950s.
The Popularization of the Ballet
The movie-going audience was already familiar with music from The Nutcracker. Walt Disney’s Fantasia, released in 1940, was a very popular animated film that set one of its segments to “Nutcracker Suite.” Animation of fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves, were portrayed, using most of the score’s second act music. However, it was undoubtedly, the George Balanchine version that propelled the ballet into the holiday spectacle today enjoyed by millions. Balanchine created his full-length Nutcracker in 1954 for New York City Ballet. In his own words:
“I have liked this ballet from the first time I danced in it as a boy, when I did small roles in the Maryinsky theatre production. When I was fifteen, I danced the Nutcracker Prince. Years later in New York, when our company decided to do an evening-long ballet, I preferred to turn to The Nutcracker with which American audiences were not sufficiently familiar.” (Balanchine’s Festival of Ballet 1978)
After the New York City Ballet’s successful 1954 premiere, the ballet was scheduled for an entire month of performances the following Christmas. Now that full-length versions were regularly performed on both coasts, its popularity soared. Part of the appeal can be attributed to the secular observance of Christmas in North America. The ballet dovetailed neatly into what is often considered a festive children’s holiday without the somber overtones of religious themes and rituals. Children in the cast also added to the popularity of the ballet, resulting in a wider audience and more accessibility, especially for those who considered ballet to be elitist, or not popular, entertainment.
Balanchine and his company also enjoyed an unexpected benefit of having children in the cast. Their presence contributed to the financial success of the ballet by having more of the extended families participating as audience members. There are few certainties in the business of promoting classical ballet, but presenting The Nutcracker often ensures an audience and can thus be counted on to allow a company to meet its financial obligations.
The Nutcracker today In America, it is possible that four generations of the same family have delighted in watching this ballet. Given its long history, the ballet invites a wide range of dance styles and staging.
Each company seeks ways to make the production feel new. Some companies infuse a local atmosphere into the ballet, especially in the first act. The local historical context can increase the audiences’ enjoyment as they recognize references seen in the ballet that relate to their own lives.
Nods to history and the use of artistic and renowned personalities in the staging thrive, as ballet companies continue to find fresh approaches. A perfect example combining these aspects of production emerged in Seattle, Washington, where Kent Stowell’s version had sets and costumes designed by the famous children’s author Maurice Sendak – a tradition for Seattle-area audiences since 1983. It is now being replaced by the original 1954 Balanchine version.
An interview with one major American ballet company director revealed that the choice of how to shape a new production, or even terminate an old one, is fraught with conflict. He described presenting the ballet as if it were a restaurant. The food must be good enough to have the customer enjoy the meal but not so extravagant that they cannot see themselves coming back to dine again. There are competing interests to pay attention to. The Nutcracker needs to be a success and continue to draw in an audience, especially one that may not regularly attend the ballet. At the same time, it must have high artistic quality, enticing the audience to see other diverse company productions. Regardless of the history or local flavor costumes and sets choose to highlight, ultimately, the choreography and dancing remain key to stimulating interest.
Thankfully, those of us who love The Nutcracker can breathe a sigh of relief. In one form or another this ballet, now well over one hundred years old, will continue to be a beloved holiday celebration. Each year a party will happen; Clara will dream; the mice will fight soldiers, and the audience will be taken to a magical land where they can dream… at least until the curtain falls.
The author, Charles Flachs, professor of dance at Mount Holyoke College and co-director of the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, was transported into a dance career partly by watching the New York City Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet Nutcrackers as a young ballet student.