Soon after they had successfully produced The Sleeping Beauty, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, Director of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, suggested to Petipa that the story of the Nutcracker would make an excellent ballet. Petipa’s scenario was drafted from Alexandre Dumas’s freely-adapted translation of the story, written in 1815, by the German writer, Ernst Theodore Amadeus Hoffmann, Der Nussknacker und der Mausekönig. It was not an original story and various versions of it are to be found in the folk tales and legends of Bohemia and Poland.
An extraordinarily methodical worker, Petipa began work eighteen months before the production of the ballet, making innumerable notes about every aspect of the production – choreography, characters, props and costumes. He planned every stage of the action, decided on the sequence of the dances, and sometimes even the composition of the dance itself.
Unfortunately, Petipa fell ill in 1892, just at the time rehearsals for The Nutcracker were due to begin, and Lev Ivanov was required to take over the production. By this time, however, Petipa had completed virtually all of the planning and preparation for the ballet.
The Nutcracker ballet was first produced at the Maryinsky Theatre on 18 December, 1892. At the time, The Nutcracker was thought to be a failure – critics and audiences deemed the action to be flimsy, and they were disappointed at what were considered to be poor opportunities given to the ballerina.
The Vic-Wells Ballet presented the first complete version of The Nutcracker outside Russia at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre on 30 January 1934. Nikolay Sergueyev staged the Petipa/Ivanov production under the title Casse-Noisette with considerable authenticity, with the famous ballerina, Alicia Markova, as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Robert Helpmann, newly arrived from Australia, was cast in the Chinese Dance, and among the anonymous snowflakes was a little girl called Margot Fonteyn.
Since its less than auspicious première over 120 years ago, The Nutcracker has travelled far from St Petersburg. The original choreography by Lev Ivanov is now no longer performed, but the attraction of Tchaikovsky’s score and the suitability of the story for Christmas entertainment has inspired many choreographers to make their own version of this enchanting ballet.
Seeing The Nutcracker is a dearly-held Christmas ritual for countless families around the world, and we’re delighted to offer Queenslanders the opportunity to similarly embrace this festive tradition.