The Nutcracker was first performed on December 18, 1892 in the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. No less than four masters convened to create this masterpiece. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was a fairy tale written by E.T. A. (or W.) Hoffman in 1815.
It’s a rather troubling story in which Marie in a feverish dream falls into a glass cabinet, badly cutting her arm. While the wound heals, she is brainwashed by the Mouse King and eventually leaves the real world to marry the nutcracker and live in the Kingdom of the Dolls.
In 1844, Alexander Dumas wrote the more benign version we are more familiar with. In 1890 Tchaikovsky was commissioned by the Imperial Theater to put The Nutcracker to music. The fourth master was Marius Petipa, principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet. It was Petipa who chose Hoffman’s text as the libretto and gave Tchaikovsky detailed instructions for the score.
Unfortunately, art cannot be free from politics for very long. In 1905 with the onset of the Russian Revolution, the dancers in the Mariinsky Theatre largely fled and scattered across Europe bringing Russian high culture with them, including The Nutcracker. In 1927, it showed up in Budapest. By 1934 it had made its way to London, and 10 years later, the San Francisco Ballet staged its own version, based on the original choreography.
This photograph is in the public domain. It is by an unknown photographer of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. St. Petersburg, Russian Empire. – Scanned from the book “The Life and Ballets of Lev Ivanov” by Roland John Wiley. Oxford University Press, 1997.
Photo of Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara (left), an unknown performer (center), & Vassily Stulkolin as Fritz (right) in the Imperial Ballet’s original production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker”.